Politics & Government

Abel Maldonado, after his election loss: 'I was not raised to give up'

Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is flanked by daughter Erika and Dr. Rene Bravo in front of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on March 23.
Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is flanked by daughter Erika and Dr. Rene Bravo in front of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on March 23. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Abel Maldonado may have lost his race for the House of Representatives on Tuesday, but he is far from out of public life and may take another run at the winner, Rep. Lois Capps, when the seat opens in two years.

“I’m barely on first base” in terms of public service, the Santa Maria Republican said in a wide-ranging interview with The Tribune two days after the election.

Maldonado, 45, who has been a mayor, assemblyman, state senator and lieutenant governor, was soundly defeated by Capps, an incumbent veteran Democrat, in the race for the newly drawn 24th Congressional District.

Political observers expected the contest to be close, but Capps prevailed easily, 55-45 percent.

Despite the drubbing, Maldonado said, “I was not raised to give up. Public service is in my blood, public service is in my heart, and I love my country.”

He did not say what office he might run for, and he did not announce another run for Congress. But, he said, “I don’t think Washington was ready for me this (political) cycle.” 

All congressional seats, including California’s 24th District, will be open again in 2014.

Maldonado credited Capps’ “great get-out-the-vote operation” as one of two key reasons she won. The other was what he called a relentlessly negative campaign he says his opponent ran.

“At the end of the day,” Maldonado said, “Lois attacking me personally and attacking my family personally caused a lot of folks to say, ‘Let’s not vote for Abel,’ or, ‘Let’s not vote at all.’ ”

“Did you see what Lois Capps ran for eight weeks? They (the advertisements) were all attacks on my family,” by which Maldonado means his family farm.

Maldonado's family operation in Santa Maria is involved in a $470,000 dispute with the IRS, which is being fought out in U.S. Tax Court. The family farm also is disputing an IRS claim that it underpaid taxes by more than $3.6 million between 2006 and 2008.

Capps made hay with the dispute, alluding to it repeatedly in her political advertisements.

Capps and her supporters, however, also have complained about negative advertisements that Maldonado ran against her.

Like Maldonado, Capps credited her victory to her get-out-the-vote effort by her staff and volunteers. But political observers also said she is a known factor in parts of the district, and years of providing constituent services have created a level of trust.

Maldonado said that by the time the next congressional elections roll around, his disputes with the IRS will be behind him and no longer open for use as political fodder.

Asked whether the Tea Party’s coolness toward his candidacy affected the outcome, Maldonado demurred, other than to say that he agrees with the Tea Party’s concern about taxes and other fiscal issues.

Although the Tea Party does not formally endorse candidates, many of its adherents supported self-declared “Tea Party candidate” Chris Mitchum in the primary election. After losing the primary, Mitchum, the son of the late actor Robert Mitchum, never endorsed Maldonado.

In addition, many conservative Republicans never forgave Maldonado for breaking ranks with other Republicans in 2009 and voting for a state budget. Maldonado said he is proud of that vote, which was bipartisan and broke a gridlock.

Given that history, he said, it was misleading for Capps to call him “unequivocally extreme” during the campaign.

Maldonado is staying active and thinking about not only his own future but that of his party, especially regarding Latinos.

“We have a lot of work to do on my side of the aisle to grow the tent,” he said, echoing Republicans nationally, who were alarmed that the Hispanic vote went so heavily to Democrats.

“It’s no secret what the fastest-growing sector of the population is,” Maldonado said.

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