Opinion Columns & Blogs

Abel Maldonado didn't get the job, but he got publicity

Whether you love him or hate him, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, there’s one thing almost everyone can agree on when it comes to state Sen. Abel Maldonado: The guy’s at the head of the class of ambition.

Consider, five months after he was elected state senator for the 15th district in 2004, he floated trial balloons as to whether he should run for state insurance commissioner in 2006.

He quietly folded that tent in April 2005 and with whip-snapping speed filed to run for state controller. He lost that bid in the 2006 Republican primary to Steve Strickland.

The idea of running for statewide office just two years into his Senate term left his constituency wondering, “Where’s Maldo?”

Where’s Maldo, indeed? Most likely clinging to the coattails of his political patron, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As you may recall, Maldo co-chaired Arnie’s gubernatorial campaign after Gray Davis was recalled.

Since then, it’s been a case of me-and-my shadow, pete and repeat, as the two have stumped for various failed initiatives and budget-adjusting tax increases.

Yet you’ve got to admire Maldo’s guts. Almost two years ago he authored a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban pay raises for state elected officials when the state faced budget deficits.

The amendment was shot down in committee, but the issue ended up before the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which decided to cut state elected officials’ pay by 18 percent. Yet they’ll still be the most highly paid lawmakers in the nation, pulling down almost $100,000 a year with an extra $30,000 in annual perks.

In this instance, Maldo showed some populist spine. The same can be said when he crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats on raising taxes to help deal with the state’s budget deficits.

To be sure, he did so after holding his vote hostage for open primaries, but the move gave him a patina of being one of the few bipartisan members of the state Legislature — rare birds, to be sure.

And now he’s at the center of the brouhaha over being appointed to one of the most meaningless jobs in state government. OK, there may be thousands more meaningless state jobs which taxpayers are on the hook, but this is the highest of such jobs.

That alone is a victory for Maldo. His ambition is such that whether or not Schwarzenegger succeeds in his ongoing attempt to appoint him may be immaterial.

Maldo has now received the statewide exposure he’s been so single-mindedly pursuing from his first inauguration as mayor of Santa Maria.

Yet there is real irony in how this scenario is playing out: Some 83 percent of voters in California hold the state Legislature in contempt for partisan gridlock when it should be keeping its eye on the budget deficit. Maldo has his coveted name recognition, but it’s firmly associated with elected idiocy.

Whether Maldo’s patron Arnie gets his way by huff and puff, or the legislative Democrats tie up the issue in the courts, the citizens of California will have had enough of this dysfunctional group of self-interested hacks and will hopefully throw the bums of both parties out on their ears in future elections.