Dem leader not hot on Maldonado

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says he has “grave concerns” about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to nominate GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado as the next lieutenant governor.

“I congratulate Senator Maldonado upon his nomination by the governor,” Steinberg said in a release a few minutes ago. “Senator Maldonado is a fine colleague, but I have grave doubts about filling this position with any sitting elected official for two significant reasons.”

Steinberg questions the cost of holding a special election to replace Maldonado, estimated at $2 million.

“Rather than using taxpayer money to pay for an avoidable election, it may be wiser to use that $2 million to defray recent fee increases in our higher education system,” Steinberg said. “For example, $2 million would significantly reduce the Winter/Spring 2010 fee increases for UC students, or it would cover the recent $6 per unit increase for 333,000 course units for community college students.”

Besides, he added, voters in less than a year will select their own lieutenant governor.

“It may be both fiscally and politically prudent to permit the people to make their own selection for this statewide office next year and avoid the expense of a costly special election,” Steinberg said.

So much for rewarding Maldonado for his aye vote on the budget this year.

The nomination to fill out former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi’s term would be a serious leg up for Maldonado’s election prospects in 2010, where he could run as the incumbent.

UPDATE: Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear says the Legislature has the power to avoid the cost of a special election: If the Legislature confirms Maldonado by Feb. 16, the special election to fill his seat can be consolidated with the June 8 statewide election and pay nothing extra.

UPDATE NO. 2:  Rick Jacobs, chairman of the progressive Courage Campaign, released the following statement today on Maldonado.

“The best thing we can do right now is to remove Sen. Abel Maldonado from a position of importance where he can do great damage, the California State Senate, and place him in an irrelevant post, the Lt. Governor’s office. For once, we agree with the Governor — Abel Maldonado should be demoted to Lt. Governor.”

UPDATE NO. 3: From Steinberg’s office on the cost of special election. ”

“To fill the Maldonado seat, there will almost certainly be two elections: 1) a primary, and 2) a run-off. It is only possible to consolidate one of those two elections with the June primary. Thus, there will have to be at least one unconsolidated election for the 15th SD, which would involve 5 separate county election offices. The cost of administering one such election is estimated at $2 million. That number is based on the most recent Senate special election to fill SD 26 (Curren Price) and what we’ve been told by the Secretary of State’s office.”

UPDATE NO. 4:  Governor Schwarzenegger’s Communications Director Matt David today issued the following statement after Senator Steinberg’s comments on the Governor’s recent appointment of Senator Maldonado as California’s next Lieutenant Governor:

“If Senator Steinberg acts promptly and confirms Senator Maldonado as California’s next Lieutenant Governor within 84 days, the Governor will consolidate the 15th district’s special election with the statewide June election to save tax payer dollars. If Senator Steinberg is concerned about state revenues and college tuition hikes he should stop fighting his own pay cut.”

Senator Steinberg Announced Today That He Was Opposed To A Special Election, But He Had No Problem Earlier This Year Endorsing State Senator Gil Cedillo In The Special Election To Fill The 32nd Congressional District Seat. (Gil Cedillo For U.S. Congress, www.gilcedillo.com, Accessed 11/24/09)

In April, The Sacramento Bee Ran A Story Detailing The Problems The Democratic Leadership May Have As Legislators Leave The Senate And Assembly To Seek Higher Office. This Is What Senator Steinberg Said When Asked About The Vacancy Situation: “Steinberg said he will always ‘encourage my colleagues to seek higher office (and) achieve their goals. We’ll deal with it all as best we can.’ (Shane Goldmacher, “Vacancies To Plague Dem Leadership Throughout ’09,” Sacramento Bee, 4/3/09)

Senator Maldonado Has Had A Commitment To Ensure Fiscal Responsibility By Requesting Legislative Pay Cuts. “State Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) today testified before the Citizens Compensation Commission hearing in Los Angeles, which voted to reduce legislators’ salaries by eighteen percent. As part of his ongoing commitment to fiscal responsibility, Senator Maldonado immediately sent a letter to State Controller John Chiang asking that he be paid the new salary effective June 1, 2009. “Of all the cuts that are being discussed right now, one part of government remains immune-the Legislature. I have always said that this economic crisis is about shared pain and shared sacrifice. That is why I came to Los Angeles today to testify before the commission,” Maldonado stated immediately following the hearing.” (Press Release, Senator Abel Maldonado, 5/20/09)

The State Legislature Is Quietly Seeking Using The Courts To Block A Steep Cut In Lawmakers’ Salary And Perks. “Executives of the Assembly and Senate have asked the state attorney general to determine whether the scheduled 18% pay reduction and additional 18% cuts to living expenses and car allowances are illegal. The lowered benefits are due to kick in next month, while base pay is set to be slashed from $116,000 to $95,000, starting with lawmakers elected starting year.” (Patrick McGreevy, “Lawmakers try to block cuts in their pay, perks; Officials seek attorney general’s ruling on the legality of the trims,” Los Angeles Times, 11/6/09)

UPDATE NO. 5: This one came in Tuesday night from Steinberg’s office after I left:

Governor Schwarzenegger’s Communications Director, Matt David, today issued a statement criticizing Senator Steinberg’s statement expressing concern about the $2 million price tag for a special election that would be necessitated if Senator Maldonado is confirmed as Lieutenant Governor.

I don’t know Matt David, and I’m sure he’s an earnest public servant. But there are a few items within his statement that demand a response.

“[T]he Governor will consolidate the 15th district’s special election with the statewide June election to save tax payer dollars.” That’s great, but it fails to recognize that there will be two elections to fill the SD 15 vacancy if Senator Maldonado is confirmed, and only one of those elections can legally be consolidated with the regularly scheduled June statewide primary. The two elections for SD 15 would be a primary and a runoff election. According to state elections officials, either one of those elections, if unconsolidated, should cost at least $2 million. It is possible that Mr. David believes that there will only be one SD 15 election because some dream candidate will earn more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, thus winning the seat outright. However, anyone with more than 15 minutes of political experience in California will tell you that will not happen in the 15th Senate District. Thus, even if the Governor consolidates the special election primary with the June election, there will be a runoff election that will cost taxpayers $2 million.

“If Senator Steinberg is concerned about state revenues and college tuition hikes he should stop fighting his own pay cut.” This would be ironic, if it weren’t false. Senator Steinberg is not fighting his own pay cut, and Mr. David presented no evidence in his statement establishing otherwise. As was accurately reported in the Los Angeles Times (and Sacramento Bee), “[e]xecutives of the Assembly and Senate” requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General regarding recent actions by the Citizen Compensation Commission. In other words, the request was made by Greg Schmidt and Jon Waldie, not Darrell Steinberg. Of course, whether lawmakers should be paid on a par with communications directors for the Governor is a separate story.

“Senator Steinberg Announced Today That He Was Opposed To A Special Election, But He Had No Problem Earlier This Year Endorsing State Senator Gil Cedillo In The Special Election To Fill The 32nd Congressional District Seat.” It is true that Senator Steinberg encourages his colleagues to pursue their goals. Indeed, if Senator Maldonado chooses to run for Lieutenant Governor in next year’s election, Senator Steinberg would be thrilled to see him pursue his electoral desires. But Mr. David’s argument that somehow Sen. Steinberg is applying a double-standard is a red-herring. The concerns over the cost of the potential special election have nothing to do with the political ambitions of Senator Maldonado. Instead, the concerns are based on the fact that the Governor could have avoided the problem simply by nominating anybody other than a sitting legislator. It may be that the Senate and the Assembly determine that it is worth $2 million to have Senator Maldonado serve out the remaining months left in Garamendi’s LG term, but it’s still a $2 million decision the Governor has forced on the legislature.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen