Arnold Names New Lt. Gov., But Legislature May Balk

Abel Maldonado

Maldonado ran statewide once before, losing a GOP primary in 2006. hide caption

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has named state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R) as his choice for lt. gov. Maldonado would replace John Garamendi (D), who was elected to Congress earlier this month.

But it's not that simple. In California, the state Legislature — solidly Democratic — would have to confirm the choice. And since Maldonado would likely seek to keep the job in next year's elections, that might complicate matters.

That's not his only problem. Maldonado is a moderate Republican who has often bucked his more conservative party in Sacramento to side with Schwarzenegger on an assortment of issues, such as raising taxes. That issue alone has made Maldonado persona non grata (Latin for "Republican In Name Only") with many on the right.

In his one attempt at statewide office, Maldonado lost the GOP primary for controller in 2006 to Tony Strickland, a more conservative candidate. After the primary, Maldonado lashed out at Schwarzenegger for staying on the sidelines:

Our governor cares about one thing only, and that's Arnold Schwarzenegger. I kind of felt like I got left holding the bag. ... When he needs Latinos, Latinos are always there for him. When Latinos need him, the answer's been 'no.'

But that was then and this is now.

The Sacramento Bee's Dan Smith notes that lawmakers have 90 days to act on the appointment:

If either the Assembly or the Senate rejects him on a majority vote, he will remain in the Senate and the governor would have the option of finding a new nominee or leaving the job vacant. If the two houses approve Maldonado on a majority vote - or fail to act within 90 days - he would fufill the final year of Garamendi's term.

Democrats may object to Schwarzenegger appointing a Republican to a job a Democrat was elected to perform. Moreover, two Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate are planning to run for lieutenant governor next year and may be unwilling to confirm someone who then could run against them as the incumbent.

On the other hand, Democrats believe they can win the Central Coast Senate seat left open by elevating Maldonado to the lieutenant governor's job. If they did win the seat, Democrats would have 26 votes in the upper house, one shy of a two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes, approve the budget bill or override vetoes.

A similar scenario existed in 1988, following the death of state Treasurer Jesse Unruh (D). GOP Gov. George Deukmejian named a Republican, Rep. Dan Lungren, to replace him. But while the state Assembly approved the nomination, the state Senate did not, saying he was too conservative for their tastes.

Lungren has had his share of ups and downs since then. In 1990 he was elected state attorney general and re-elected four years later. He was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1998, losing to Gray Davis. He returned to Congress in 2004, winning an open seat from a different district. Last year he was re-elected by a narrow margin.

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