Abel Maldonado hopes merit will get him confirmed as lieutenant governor

State Sen. Abel Maldonado said Monday he will be confirmed as California’s lieutenant governor if the Legislature bases its decision on his performance and not on politics.

The Santa Maria Republican, meeting on Monday with The Tribune Editorial Board, declined to give odds on his confirmation.

“This is a new river I’m going up, with new scenery,” he said.

However, he said legislators know him and his voting record, and that should be enough for them to ratify Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to name him lieutenant governor to replace John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress.

Maldonado acknowledged, however, that some Democrats don’t want him in office because they would then have to run against an incumbent next November. Some Republicans who are seeking the job in the June primary also might oppose his elevation.

Even if he is not confirmed, Maldonado said he will run for the position next year.During his hourlong interview, Maldonado, 42, touched on subjects ranging from term limits to taxes.

But the discussion lingered on whether he could get the Legislature’s confirmation and what kind of lieutenant governor he would make should he succeed.

If he does get the job, it will trigger an election to find a replacement for his Central Coast Senate seat. Maldonado’s district spans from Santa Maria to just south of San Jose.

He acknowledged angering fellow Republicans when he broke ranks earlier this year and voted to pass a budget.

While his detractors have accused him of making the move for political reasons — Schwarzenegger naming him lieutenant governor — Maldonado said his vote was for the good of the state and its people.

He noted that he has also made Republicans happy with some of his votes. An analysis of his voting record by Project Vote Smart backs that up, showing him receiving high marks from such pro-GOP constituencies as the Chamber of Commerce, with only middling-to-low marks among Democrat-leaning consumer and labor groups.

Maldonado said he would give the lie to the notion that the lieutenant governor’s job has little responsibility. He vowed to work hard to make it meaningful, focusing every day on economic development, for example.

One of his goals, he said, is to make the “Big Five” — the governor and the majority and minority leaders of both houses — into the “Big Five Plus One,” the lieutenant governor being the sixth.

He also said he wanted to end the partisan political culture in Sacramento where, he said, legislators take it personally when you vote against their bill. However, he did not provide specifics as to how to accomplish that reconciliation.

Other points Maldonado touched on:

• He declined to unequivocally oppose oil drilling off the coast, although he has opposed it in the past. He said his earlier position should signal how he will act in the future, although he believes in remaining open-minded and pragmatic.

• While the state health care system “needs tweaking, … I don’t have the answers as to what the tweaks would be,” he said. Maldonado opposes single-payer health care.

• There is “a very good chance” he will endorse Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, to replace him in the Senate should Blakeslee run for his vacant seat. Maldonado said he has asked for help from Blakeslee, the Assembly minority leader, in being confirmed lieutenant governor.

• He said this coming year’s state budget is going to be tougher than the current year, and Californians should prepare. He said the government should create jobs and provide tax incentives to small businesses.

• He believes the government should streamline the permit process. He noted with approval that the Legislature waived some rules to help move forward a professional football stadium in the City of Industry near Los Angeles.

• Leaving the lieutenant governor’s position vacant is a bad idea, he said, because in any corporation with a $100 billion budget “there should be a number two.”

• He thinks the state should modify term limits, which have given lobbyists and long-time staff members disproportionate power because they have greater institutional knowledge. He would like to see state senators have two six-year terms and Assembly members three four-year terms.

• He would not change either Proposition 13 or the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget.

• He strongly denied that the two-tier election system he has proposed would undermine third parties like the Libertarian and Green parties. Under the two-tier, or open primary, only the two top vote-getters in the June primary would run off in November; they could both be from the same party.

• Getting voters to approve an $11.2 billion water bond would be a “hard sell” right now, he said, but voters will come around by June or July of next year.

• Fixing the state’s higher education system should start by going after high executive compensation, he said. “I’m going to be a watchdog on that.”

• Jay Leno found out before he did that Schwarzenegger had named him lieutenant governor. The governor called him 15 minutes after the show announcing the appointment was taped.