Calif. Assembly rejects lt. governor nominee

Calif. Assembly rejects lt. governor nominee »Play Video
State Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, appears before the Senate Rules Committee Feb. 3. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Assembly on Thursday rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pick for lieutenant governor, marking another failed attempt at bipartisanship for a Legislature that has become a symbol of dysfunction.

The state Senate voted relatively quickly in the morning to confirm Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, but his nomination hit a wall in the Assembly.

Several initial votes failed to generate majority support in the 80-member house before a final vote of 37-35. The Assembly adjourned immediately after the late-afternoon vote.

Despite the rejection, there was confusion about Maldonado's ultimate fate.

The governor's office said it believes Maldonado's nomination would fail only if a majority of the Assembly — or 41 lawmakers — voted to reject it.

The Assembly speaker's office issued a different opinion that said he could not take office. It cited a 1988 opinion from the Legislative Council's Office saying nominees need at least 40 affirmative votes in the Assembly.

Schwarzenegger's legal secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, issued a statement after the Assembly vote saying, in part, that Thursday's action does not legally constitute a "refusal" to confirm.

"Based on the Assembly vote, Senator Maldonado will be sworn in as Lieutenant Governor," her statement said.

Whatever the outcome, Thursday's events underscored how difficult it has become to reach consensus in the California Legislature, not to mention the strained relations between Schwarzenegger and certain lawmakers. Maldonado's confirmation required just a simple majority vote.

The vote was seen as a test of whether a Legislature that has fallen into public disfavor had any ability to compromise. The reason: Maldonado is a member of the minority party, but he also is among a small group of moderate Republicans who occasionally will work with Democrats to pass budget bills, even those that include tax increases.

Yet even the Assembly's Democratic leaders, Speaker Karen Bass and incoming Speaker John Perez, voted against the nomination, votes that are sure to anger Schwarzenegger. The Assembly speaker is one of the key negotiators on the state budget.

"So much for bipartisanship. Today it died in the state Assembly," said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Yuba City. "The people are rightly angry at this institution."

The floor debate in the Assembly showed that lawmakers can't even agree on what constitutes bipartisanship.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, said Schwarzenegger's selection of Maldonado was a cold political calculation to reward a lawmaker who has helped him in the past. Maldonado intends to run for the lieutenant governor's seat in this year's election, and making him the incumbent will give him an advantage over others seeking the post.

Swanson and some other lawmakers said it would be better to simply leave the post vacant until the voters have their say in November.

"The governor should send us a candidate who's only interest over the next 10 months is to serve the state and is not distracted by the politics of the ... season," he said.

Even a handful of Maldonado's fellow Republicans opposed his nomination, in part because he voted in favor of an emergency budget fix last year that raised the vehicle license fee and the personal income and sales taxes.

If he is seated, Maldonado would fill the position that has been vacant since Democrat John Garamendi won a congressional seat last November. The 42-year-old son of farmworkers would become the highest-ranking Hispanic in state government.

___

Associated Press Writer Don Thompson contributed to this report.