Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Asia trade mission this week gives his hand-picked lieutenant governor a chance to step into the spotlight just two months before the general election.
Yet Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado said if all goes well, most Californians won’t know he held all the powers of governor from the time Schwarzenegger left Thursday until his planned return on Sept. 15.
“Former lieutenant governors have used it as a bully pulpit to attack the governor. I am not going to do that,” said Maldonado, who, like Schwarzenegger, is a Republican.
The little-known former state senator could use a little publicity as he seeks to keep the usually obscure office he has held for less than five months. Maldonado faces Democrat Gavin Newsom, a much more widely known figure who as mayor of San Francisco is best known for championing legalization of same-sex marriages.
“This is his opportunity,” said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo.
Maldonado had scheduled his first event as California’s temporary governor before Schwarzenegger had even left the state. He plans to use his temporary executive powers on Friday to authorize a land development project in Oakland.
His office said the “Oak to 9th” project on a former industrial site will create jobs, add affordable housing and provide tax revenue. The event across the bay from San Francisco also was to feature Oakland’s Democratic mayor, Ron Dellums.
A Newsom spokesman used the opportunity to criticize Maldonado’s record.
“Hopefully, Maldonado won’t have enough time to continue pushing his destructive agenda of raising tuition, slashing classroom funding, protecting polluters and opposing clean energy jobs,” spokesman Dan Newman said in an e-mailed statement.
Maldonado is likely to assume significant control only in a large-scale emergency. That’s what happened when then-Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy took command after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake while Gov. George Deukmejian was overseas. He is not expected to sign bills or act on the state’s overdue budget.
Schwarzenegger chose Maldonado because of his reputation as a moderate who occasionally worked across party lines. The 43-year-old from Santa Maria became lieutenant governor in April and replaced Democrat John Garamendi, who won a seat in Congress the previous year.
Maldonado has been acting governor a dozen times while Schwarzenegger was out of state for short periods, although this is the governor’s first extensive trip since Maldonado took office.
Schwarzenegger is leading the mission to China, Japan and South Korea to promote trade and, in turn, boost job-creation in California, where the unemployment rate stands at 12.3 percent. The countries are three of the state’s top five trading partners, accounting for nearly a quarter of the state’s exports.
“This governor and I are focused on working together,” Maldonado said in a telephone interview. “We need to show Californians that we can come together and focus on the important things, like jobs.”