Abel Maldonado's bid for lieutenant governor moves forward

Following a two-hour-plus hearing, the Assembly Rules Committee on Tuesday sent the nomination of state Sen. Abel Maldonado to the floor, setting up confirmation votes in both legislative houses within a few days.

The unanimous committee vote was, as expected, on a motion to send the nomination to the Assembly floor without a recommendation.

Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican, underwent sharp questioning from Democratic members of the committee on issues ranging from raising taxes to the military’s don't-ask, don’t-tell policy on gay soldiers and abortion rights.

The testiest exchange was with Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who was one of three Latino Assembly members who declared opposition to Maldonado even before the hearing. Mendoza was critical of Maldonado’s using his key vote on a budget deal last year to force the Legislature to place a measure on the June ballot, Proposition 14, that would create an open primary election system.

The 90-day deadline for the Legislature to either confirm or reject Maldonado expires in a few days. He needs confirmation (or no action) from both houses to succeed Democrat John Garamendi, who resigned last year after winning a seat in Congress. Maldonado has said that he intends to run for lieutenant governor this year, regardless of whether he’s confirmed.

The Senate Rules Committee voted to recommend confirmation last week, and approval in that house is deemed likely. If Maldonado wins confirmation, there would be a special election to fill his Central Coast Senate seat. Democratic strategists believed they would have a fair chance of winning it. But Maldonado's fate in the more partisan Assembly is uncertain.