Maldonado confirmed as lieutenant governor; Blakeslee, Laird won't say if they'll run

The two most likely candidates to run for the Central Coast state Senate seat being vacated by Republican Abel Maldonado were cautious Monday about saying they would do so.

Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, was confirmed as lieutenant governor by the California Senate on Monday, filling a vacancy created when John Garamendi was elected to Congress.

GOP Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo and former Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, have been mentioned frequently as possible candidates to replace Maldonado as senator of the 15th District. The most recent mention came in a column Monday by Sacramento Bee political writer Dan Walters.

“Abel will bring an energy and commitment to that office that will serve our state well,” Blakeslee said in a short statement. “I have known and shared a district with Abel for several years and appreciate his track record of putting the needs of California ahead of partisanship.”

“We know he will bring the spirit of hard work and problem-solving to the lieutenant governor’s office,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg after the 25-7 vote.

Maldonado, a 42-year-old son of farmworkers, said, “I’ll never forget whose money the government spends.

He is to be sworn in today.

He cleared the key hurdle last Thursday when the Assembly confirmed him on a 53-21 vote. That house had initially denied Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nomination of Maldonado over his votes during the budget impasse last year.

Blakeslee on Monday declined to speak about his own plans, preferring to congratulate Maldonado on his “historic” confirmation.

Blakeslee has been accumulating money for a run at the Senate seat and has amassed half a million dollars.

Laird reiterated that he is “strongly leaning” toward a campaign for the seat but said he would wait to make a formal announcement until Schwarzenegger calls a special election.

Schwarzenegger has 14 days from the time of Maldonado’s resignation to call an election, and the timing is “very critical” to San Luis Obispo County finances, according to county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.

If the governor issues the election order prior to May 6, Rodewald wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune, “there is no choice but to have two ‘special vacancy’ elections” for the Senate seat, one in July (a primary) and the other eight weeks later (a general election).

“This option would cost at least $1 million for the county, with no guarantee for reimbursement, and would seriously strain staff's orderly conduct of any of the elections between now and November,” Rodewald wrote.

If, on the other hand, Schwarzenegger waits until May 6, “he can choose to consolidate the special general with November and hold the special primary on Aug. 31,” she wrote.

Democrats believe a consolidated election would produce a larger turnout, and that would give them an advantage in their effort to take a state Senate district where they enjoy a slight edge in voter registration. The district’s voters are 46.7 percent Democrat, 34.5 percent Republican and 19.6 percent decline to state. The 15th District travels along the coast from San Jose on the north to Santa Maria on the south.

A largely ceremonial position, the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when the governor leaves the state. He also serves as president of the state Senate, on the governing boards for California’s public university systems and on the state Lands Commission.

Whenever the election is held, if Laird and Blakeslee end up facing off, it will be a classic battle between two men who have been described as the brightest in the Legislature, yet who occupy the opposite poles of the political spectrum.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.