Abel Maldonado criticized by Democratic Assembly members

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Democratic members of the Assembly on Monday called on their colleagues to reject the confirmation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nominee for lieutenant governor, saying the Santa Maria lawmaker is out of step with the needs of average Californians.

They referenced Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado’s voting history on labor, immigration, health care and other issues, and urged lawmakers to leave the office vacant until voters choose a new lieutenant governor later this year.

“If you look at his voting record, there’s a clear disconnect between the everyday lives of working men and women in this state,” Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol. “There’s 121 days until a June primary, and my sense is, why don’t we let the voters of this state make a decision on who they want to see on the ballot for this office?”

Schwarzenegger nominated Maldonado in November after Democrat John Garamendi, the former lieutenant governor, was elected to Congress last year.

Maldonado, 42, has said he intends to run for the seat, no matter what happens with his nomination. The Assembly and Senate have until Feb. 21 to act. If they don’t, Maldonado automatically assumes the post.

Maldonado is seen as a moderate within the Republican Party because he occasionally breaks ranks with his fellow GOP lawmakers. A year ago, for example, he provided one of just a handful of Republican votes on a midyear budget deal that raised the vehicle license fee and the sales and personal income taxes.

Despite Nava’s concerns, lawmakers in both houses worry that the Senate will not be able to find enough votes to pass budget bills this year if Maldonado is confirmed. Budget bills and those that raise taxes require a two-thirds vote.“From one moderate to another, I encourage Senator Maldonado to remain where he is needed,” said Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim.Nava said he decided to press the issue because of Maldonado’s voting record. He handed out a seven-page list of votes with which he disagreed, including Maldonado’s 2006 vote against single-payer health care.

Nava said based on his discussions with other Democratic lawmakers, it is unlikely Maldonado will receive enough votes to be confirmed in the 80-member chamber.

Newspapers throughout the state have editorialized on the Legislature’s handling of Maldonado’s nomination, criticizing lawmakers for playing petty politics. Many editorials have said confirming Maldonado would show voters that moderate positions can be rewarded in the Capitol.

“I don’t want this to be political,” Maldonado said in a telephone interview Monday. “The question is, ’Am I fit to serve as lieutenant governor?’ And I believe the answer is yes.”

Maldonado said previous Schwarzenegger nominees have been given a fair hearing, and he wants equal treatment.

Last week, the Senate Rules Committee voted 4-0 to approve his nomination, sending the matter to the full 40-member chamber. The Assembly Rules Committee is scheduled to take up Maldonado’s nomination on Tuesday.

The Assembly speaker’s office did not return telephone calls seeking a response to Nava’s comments. Schwarzenegger’s office issued a statement saying it’s time for the Assembly to follow the lead of the Senate Rules Committee.