Doing The Maldo Limbo

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It was a day full of partisan bickering, political maneuvering, and threatened legal action. In short... the kind of day that's helped fuel the perception that California's statehouse is stuck in never-ending dysfunction.

And through all that, by day's end there still was no real clarity as to whether Abel Maldonado took a big step towards becoming the next lieutenant governor... lost the fight altogether... or is stuck somewhere in between.

37-35...The final Maldo VoteThis afternoon, the Central Coast Republican failed to get enough votes in the Assembly to be confirmed. Or did he? After two votes and hours of private wrangling, the vote stood at 37-35.

And here's where we open up our copy of the California Constitution to a key phrase in Article V, Section 5(b) of the voluminous document. There, it says that a nominee to fiil a vacant statewide office gets the job unless he or she is "refused confirmation by both the Senate and the Assembly." (By the way, we'll come back to this phrase for another head scratcher in a moment.)

So was Maldo "refused confirmation" by the Assembly?

In one corner, Assembly Democrats... led by Speaker-elect John Perez in a statement emailed to the press: "This nomination failed confirmation. Senator Maldonado failed to get a majority of the members of the Assembly to deem him worthy of their vote."

And in the other corner, Governor Schwarzenegger and his legal beagles, led by legal affairs secretary Andrea Lynnn Hoch and her emailed statement: "Today's Assembly vote is not a 'refusal' to confirm, there is neither a confirmation nor a refusal to confirm by that chamber and, under the text of the Constitution, the nominee would take office."

Oh good. Limbo.

Team Schwarzenegger, of course, doesn't see any limbo in where things stand; in fact, they announced today that the Guv will administer the oath of office to his 'lite guv' nominee in 11 days, which is when the 90 day nomination period ends. Call this the strategy of I'm gonna move forward, you got a problem with that?

For his part, Maldo was a man of few words in the immediate aftermath. "I must tell you I'm honored," he said, "and I feel great with the vote that I received."

That sentiment seemed a better fit for what happened in the Senate, where he sailed through the upper house on a 26-7 bipartisan vote. And the difference in the debate between the two houses could not have been more different.

Senator after senator rose to praise Maldonado and to endorse the idea that the confirmation process should be separate from the politics that will dominate the LG election this fall.

"There's a time for us to be partisan," said Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-LA) in announcing his support for Maldonado. Most of Cedillo's floor comments, in fact, felt like a message to the lower house about the symbolism of the vote... a message they clearly either didn't hear or rejected: "It is very evident," said Cedillo, "that our lack of popularity amongst the voters is, in part, because of our failure to work together."

But the Assembly Democrats who spoke during floor debate rejected the Senate's version of events, with the charge led by Assemblymember Charles Calderon (D-Montebello). "The process that created this nomination could not have been any more partisan," he said, criticizing both the Guv (for not appointing a 'caretaker' lieutenant governor) and Senate Democrats (who he said were focused on picking up Maldo's seat in a special election).

Of course, those same Assembly Dems now face a choice: let Schwarzenegger move forward with his plan to give Maldo the job, or challenge him in court. If it's the latter, then expect to take a walk down Memory Lane over the next ten days... back to 1988 and the bitter fight over Republican Dan Lungren's failed attempt to become state treasurer. Is the case on point? Stay tuned for a lot more on this in the days to come.

There are other more political questions that are hard to answer in these early hours after the weird day that was... questions like why did six Democrats in the Assembly abstain from voting? If they were really opposed, why lay off the vote?

We'll have to let this one marinate a while. But suffice it to say that, even in the midst of a massive budget problem and countless other challenges, the Capitol community is going to be focused for a while on the curious case of who gets to serve in a position that many think is largely irrelevant in the first place.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • george

    Why would any Democrat oppose the nomination? They get to exchange a Maldonado for a Laird. They get a shot at 2/3 majority in the Senate. What is wrong with these people?