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Santa Maria’s Abel Maldonado meets with Trump over possible agriculture secretary job

Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado leaves Mar-a-Lago after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado leaves Mar-a-Lago after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. AP

President-elect Donald Trump is considering nominating former California lieutenant governor and Central Coast legislator Abel Maldonado to lead the Department of Agriculture.

Trump and Maldonado met Wednesday at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, where Trump is spending the holidays, according to transition spokesman Sean Spicer.

He also is considering a trio of Texans for agriculture secretary: the state’s agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas agriculture commissioner Susan Combs and former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano.

Maldonado, a Santa Maria native who is the son of Mexican-American farmworkers, served as lieutenant governor from 2010 to 2011. He did not return multiple calls for comment on Wednesday.

Maldonado has a long political history in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, where he served as a state assemblyman and state senator from 1998 to 2010.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Maldonado for lieutenant governor after Democrat John Garamendi was elected to the U.S. House. He was defeated in the 2010 lieutenant gubernatorial race by Democrat Gavin Newsom.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for California state controller in 2006, Congress in 2012 and governor in the 2014. In his costly challenge to Rep. Lois Capps, he was hounded by reports of a tax dispute involving a family business and struggled to overcome skepticism from some in his party who thought he was too moderate.

After dropping out of the 2014 gubernatorial race, Maldonado returned to his Santa Maria-based agricultural business, Agro-Jal Farms Inc.

In July 2015, more than a 100 past and present fieldworkers from Agro-Jal Farms filed a class action lawsuit against Maldonado and his family alleging they were denied overtime wages, not reimbursed for expenses and not provided meal and rest periods.

That lawsuit remains ongoing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

The secretary of agriculture oversees nearly 300,000 square miles of national forests and grasslands, the safety of food production and the food stamp program for low-income households.

Trump has yet to announce nominees for secretary of agriculture, secretary of veterans affairs and director of national intelligence, which is also a Cabinet-level position.

Alex Daugherty, Mike Doyle and Matt Fountain contributed to this report.

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