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We have a new lieutenant governor

Abel MaldonadoGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has named state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, to serve as Lieutenant Governor, now that Democrat John Garamendi has won election to the House in the 10th Congressional District.

“Senator Maldonado has proven he has the strength and courage it takes to reach across the partisan divide and put the interests of Californians first and he is absolutely the most qualified person to take on the role of Lieutenant Governor,” Schwarzenegger said in his news release. “Senator Maldonado shares my commitment to creating a transparent, accountable government that works for the people. He will be a true partner in solving the critical issues facing our state and building a stronger future for California.”

“Like the Governor, I learned the values of hard work, dedication and personal responsibility at a young age and place a high priority on reforming California’s broken government so that it is more responsive to and reflective of California’s diverse population,” Maldonado said in the same release. “I’m honored to take on the position of Lieutenant Governor and I look forward to working with the Governor to tackle important issues facing California and to ensure all Californians have the opportunity to realize their own American Dream.”

The appointment requires Senate and Assembly confirmation; the lieutenant governor is paid $159,134 per year.

Maldonado, 42, has represented the 15th State Senate District since 2004, and before that, the 33rd Assembly District from 1998 to 2004; he was Santa Maria’s youngest and first Latino mayor from 1996 to 1998 and a city council member for two years before that. He attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where he completed coursework in crop science.

This year, he used his precious Republican vote on a budget agreement to exact a promise from the Democratic majority to put an “open primary” ballot measure before voters next year.

Maldonado in 2006 – after his bid for state Controller ended with a primary loss to the more conservative Tony Strickland – had knocked Schwarzenegger for not doing more to support his moderate candidacy.

“Our governor cares about one thing only, and that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Maldonado told the Los Angeles Times, also knocking the governor’s track record on Latino issues. “When he needs Latinos, Latinos are always there for him. When Latinos need him, the answer’s been no.”

But Maldonado issued a public apology after that, and it surely seems they’ve patched things up.

Meanwhile, progressive Dems are already making plans for how to win the 15th State Senate District. And how are Republicans Sam Aanestad and Jeff Denham, already campaigning for the lieutenant governor’s office, feeling about the possibility of facing a Republican incumbent? Let’s wait and see…

UPDATE @ 6:02 P.M.: I spoke a few minutes ago with Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, who said he has known Maldonado since the day they both entered the Legislature 11 years ago.

“I have to offer him my congratulations, but unfortunately it makes my resolve to win the Republican primary even more firm,” he told me. “I think people are very tired of business as usual, and this represents business as usual with this governor, who is rewarding someone who in my opinion has shown for 11 years a lack of political principles, he has wavered all over the place.”

Maldonado’s budget votes, raising taxes he’d pledged not to raise, will doom him in the GOP’s eyes, Aanestad predicted. “I welcome the debate but I will be running in the Republican primary and I expect the base of this party will reject Abel and his history and will not select him as their standard-bearer in the lieutenant governor’s race.”

Along the same lines, Denham’s camp just issued this statement:

“I anticipate a rigorous confirmation process for this appointment and potentially an even more rigorous Republican primary for Lt. Governor. It is difficult to see how a candidate who has voted for a massive tax increase could possibly win a statewide Republican primary.”

And, jeez, aren’t we all going to miss it when Schwarzenegger is no longer governor and major announcements on California’s highest elected offices are no longer made on “The Jay Leno Show?” Read the transcript of how it went down, after the jump…

JAY LENO: Let me ask you, what are you going to do about a lieutenant governor? We don’t have a lieutenant governor now. We haven’t had one for a while. Are you going to appoint another one?

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Absolutely.

JAY LENO: When are you going to announce that?

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, we can do it right here.

JAY LENO: You’re going to announce it right here?

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Yeah, exactly. Why not?

JAY LENO: You picked somebody?

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Yes. I’m going to —

JAY LENO: Is it me?

(Laughter.)

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: How did you know?

(Laughter.)

JAY LENO: Well, I just thought. Oh, wow, I’m stunned.

(Applause.)

I mean, the pay cut would suck, but, you know, hey.

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: No, that’s for sure.

JAY LENO: Are you going to announce, really?

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Yeah, no, absolutely.

JAY LENO: All right.

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: I mean, I was planning to do it tomorrow.

JAY LENO: Don’t wait until tomorrow.

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: So why not? We have already a tradition. I announced my candidacy right here on the show.

JAY LENO: That’s right.

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: So why not announce the lieutenant governor? So it will be Senator Abel Maldonado —

JAY LENO: Wow.

(Applause.)

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: — who is — yes.

JAY LENO: Wow, there you go.

(Applause.)

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: And he is — he’s a terrific, loyal man that has worked very hard in public service. But he’s also into bipartisanship and postpartisanship, so he can cross the aisle. He makes decisions based on what’s best for the people rather than what’s best for the party. He has helped us, many times, pass a budget, which was very important. And he comes from an immigrant family. They came from Mexico to the United States, started with a little farm, and now they have, like, 600 acres, hundreds of people working there. So he’s a great choice, I think.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.