Throwdown Over the "Politics" of Maldo

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Governor's Office

Photo: Governor's Office

It's always fun when politicians decry the evils of politics. And so it is again today, as Democrats and Governor Schwarzenegger spar over whose to blame for the Guv's decision to schedule two stand alone elections for replacing Abel Maldonado in the state Senate.

That's now Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, who took the oath of office this afternoon only to see the political press corps pass over the story in favor of a potentially nasty throwdown between Dems and Schwarzenegger. The guy can't catch a break.

Now, on to said throwdown.

This afternoon, Schwarzenegger called a special election to replace Maldonado in the 15th senatorial district. That part was expected. What wasn't expected was Schwarzenegger doing it today, thus poking Democratic legislators in the eye by balking at their intention to fold the general, or runoff, special election for the Maldo seat into the November 2 statewide general election.

Let's briefly roll back the clock to when the Guv selected Maldonado last November. As the process moved forward, the first discussion inside the Capitol revolved around consolidating one of the special elections for the seat -- the general election, which is really a runoff in these legislative replacement races -- with the June 8 statewide primary. But the conventional wisdom became that such a scenario was less favorable for Democrats to win the seat, and so an April confirmation of the new 'lite guv' was then pegged as the Democratic price for giving a Republican the job, because it was thought more Dems would turn out to cast a vote in November than an election held earlier.

It's important to note that there was apparently never a formal indication that Schwarzenegger would go along. In fact, in an interview with Capitol Weekly published on March 4, Assembly Speaker John Perez said "there’s no guarantee the governor would even consolidate the election."

(Also important to note: the Senate actually did confirm Maldonado back in February, but the Assembly balked.)

But then again, it doesn't appear the Guv ever dissuaded Democrats from thinking he'd go along with the "November election' plan. And so when news came this morning, the anger was pretty palpable.

"It's a bonehead move," said an unusually blunt Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in a Q&A with reporters this morning. "Obviously, it comes from someone in his political shop who's trying to pull another one over on the Democrats."

And if that wasn't enough, try this quote on for size from a pro Tem who will still be around when the new chief executive moves in come January: "He's a lame duck... we'll do everything we can to do right by the people of California these next few months, but I'm looking forward to the future."

Speaker Perez's emailed statement also invoked the nasty stain of politics: "This decision, which breaks with years of precedent, was clearly motivated by petty, partisan politics."

The governor, after swearing in Maldonado, at first seemed intent on brushing off the story. "For you guys, it's always a lot of fun when people argue and fight in the Capitol," he told reporters while flashing a classic Schwarzenegger smile.

But then, he suggested that the real problem was that Democrats played their own politics by delaying action on the nomination for months. And he portrayed his decision to call the elections for earlier, not later, as a necessity to get a 40th senator in place in time for the summer budget debate. "I need people here that are with me," said Schwarzenegger.

But... rolling back the clock even further... the governor himself helped fuel the debate about politics by elevating the ambitious Maldonado into a job he's now seeking for another four years, rather than selecting a 'caretaker' lieutenant governor who could serve and then step down... or... leaving the position vacant until 2011.

Phew. In the end, there are an awful lot of rocks being thrown at, and from, glass houses here on the subject of politics.

The only indisputable fact in all of this is that voters in the senatorial district that stretches from Santa Maria to near San Jose will now have four separate elections this year: a June 8 statewide primary, a June 22 senatorial primary, an August 17 senatorial general, and a November 8 general.

That will cost money -- all told, approximately $2.5 million that must be paid counties that don't have any spare change lying around. And while all sides are decrying that cost, pointing fingers about who's to blame, and how it could've all been avoided... another reality check: those counties, and all 58 California counties, are still waiting to be reimbursed for the May 2009 statewide special election, a total of $68.2 million.

If we could only get the politics out of... politics.

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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.
  • Bedwards61

    All I know is that we’ve now got a “nothing” politician (Maldonado) sitting in a “nothing” office (Lt. Governor). No harm, no squawk.