Opinion Columns & Blogs

A study of Central Coast politics

I don’t know if anyone is writing a textbook on why people have stopped believing in government, but, if they are, they have a classic case study right here on the Central Coast.

I refer to the special elections that will soon be held to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Abel Maldonado, who was just appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be lieutenant governor.

Maldonado had been seeking to bask in the radiance of the king for more than a year. Now that he is there, it is time to examine the damage left in his scramble to the top and the behavior of those involved.

On that latter point, everyone comes out reeking like a prodded polecat.

Let’s start pre-Maldonado, with John Garamendi.

Garamendi, a Democrat, won election to a four-year term as lieutenant governor in 2006. His word, however, turned out not to be his bond.

In the third year of his term, a congressional seat opened. Garamendi thumbed his nose at the people who had elected him, ran for that seat and won.

That left a vacant spot in Schwarzenegger’s shadow.

Lurking nearby, and eyeing the spot covetously, was Maldonado, a Republican Central Coast state senator whose DNA contains an abnormally large amount of raw ambition.

Maldonado had sought statewide office before, but could not win a Republican primary because he did not tack sufficiently rightward.

Here, he saw, was a great opportunity to get where he wanted to go.

Schwarzenegger needed a Republican vote on a state budget in 2009. Maldonado gave it to him in exchange for a later nomination to the lieutenant governorship. The Governator paid the debt late in 2009 by nominating him to be his Mini-Me.

However, Democrats in the Legislature quickly showed their stripes, and I do mean stripes, as in skunk.

They sat on the Maldonado nomination for five months, apparently because they were miffed that a Republican would be appointed to a job to which a Democrat was elected, and also because they did not want to field a Democrat lieutenant governor candidate this November against an incumbent Republican, Maldonado.

Then Democrats had a change of heart. They decided in April to let Maldonado be lieutenant governor after all. They did this because they thought they had a chance to pick up Maldonado’s Senate seat, the 15th District.

They felt especially confident if that election were held in November, which generally has a larger turnout and more Democrats voting. The state Senate district has a favorable Democrat-to-Republican voter registration.

However, they failed to reckon with Schwarzenegger’s political chess-playing skills. After Maldonado resigned from the Senate, the governor called a special election to fill the seat on Aug. 17, in the summer doldrums when only diehards come out to vote.

The smaller the turnout, the governor knows, the better the chances for Republicans to win.

To make matters worse, a special primary election must, by law, precede the special general election, eight weeks earlier. That date would be June 22.

Confused? So are the voters in the 15th District, who must now vote in a statewide primary on June 8; a special state Senate primary June 22; a special state Senate general election in mid-August; and a statewide general election on Nov. 2.

County boards of supervisors and county clerks cried foul. This is going to cost us millions of dollars, they pleaded to Schwarzenegger. It’s going to disenfranchise absentee voters in Afghanistan — military members serving overseas — and depress turnout.

Reschedule the election to coincide with the November election, they begged. That would save us at least one election.

It seemed like a valid argument. Could the counties’ representatives in Sacramento help persuade the governor? Let’s check it out.

Maldonado, who represented all five counties before he ascended to the general vicinity of the throne, sniffed that he was too busy fixing the state’s economy to talk to Schwarzenegger about this, and besides, it isn’t his job to second-guess his boss.

What about Sam Blakeslee, the Republican assemblyman who seeks to represent this Senate district?

He approached the governor’s people, who told him it is “inappropriate for any declared candidate in the affected election to seek to influence the election timing.”

In other words, go away, you bother me.

“Sam therefore moved on to discuss what can be done to make sure the counties get fully reimbursed,” according to an e-mail from his office. Ask any county supervisor how good the state’s word is on the subject of reimbursement.

Then, late this past week, Democrats sued to stop the election on various arcane legal grounds. That is all pending.

And here we the people sit, facing a slew of elections and more government hands in our wallets, all for no good reason.

If you’re looking for uplift, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t know what to do about this increasingly corrupt and partisan system. Where are the good guys?

I hope eternally that people we send to Sacramento to protect our interests will do just that. But the evidence seems to indicate that it’s just not going to happen.