Governor praises Maldonado as Senate nears consideration of his nomination

SAN JOSE — State Sen. Abel Maldonado, who is bidding to become California’s lieutenant governor, got another blessing from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a gathering of top Silicon Valley business leaders.

“I love this guy,” said the governor, casting his fellow Republican as a pragmatic, middle-of-the-road lawmaker who can help steer the state through its financial straits. “He is a great, great leader. ... He only works for what’s best for the people of California, not for his party.”

The two appeared side-by-side at a luncheon held by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, a day after Senate leaders said they would begin deciding Wednesday whether Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, should be confirmed as the state’s second-in-command.

In November, the governor nominated Maldonado, who represents San Luis Obispo County and whose district extends to the Santa Cruz area, to replace Democrat John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress. However, Maldonado’s confirmation as lieutenant governor remains anything but certain as both legislative Republicans and Democrats have voiced concern about him — and whether the post should even be filled before November’s election.

Meanwhile, the chance that Maldonado will get the job has kicked off a scramble for his Senate seat, with both former Santa Cruz Assemblyman John Laird and current Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, expressing interest.

Blakeslee, whose name didn’t appear on Thursday’s speaker list, joined Maldonado and Schwarzenegger on stage to address the business group, though neither Maldonado nor the governor has officially endorsed Blakeslee for a possible run.

Speaking to a reporter after the event, Blakeslee said he officially hasn’t decided whether he’d seek Maldonado’s seat and declined to discuss a potential contest.

However, the three-term assemblyman said he thought the top priorities for the district were jobs and education, citing the areas of technology, medicine, material science and aeronautics as areas where he’d like to see growth.

Laird, meanwhile, has committed to running should Maldonado become lieutenant governor. The former Democratic lawmaker, a longtime advocate of the environment and civil rights, has begun enlisting support in Sacramento and at home.

The 15th District spans five counties, from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo, with Laird’s support in the north and Blakeslee’s in the south.

Maldonado’s nomination must be approved by both the Senate and Assembly.