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Maldonado faces tough road in Assembly

February 9, 2010 |  7:54 pm

State Sen. Abel Maldonado -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice to fill the empty lieutenant governor’s seat -- survived a preliminary confirmation hearing in front of the Assembly Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, but faces a tough road toward confirmation before the full Assembly.

Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) endured more than two hours of sometimes testy grilling from Democrats and sometimes bizarre questions from fellow Republicans. In the end, the committee voted unanimously to pass Maldonado along for a vote by the full Assembly, but used a procedural maneuver known as a “non-recommendation” to avoid casting up or down votes themselves.  He goes forward with no formal recommendation.

Before today's hearing, Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss the Maldonado nomination. According to several lawmakers in attendance, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, only three people in the 50-member caucus said they would vote for Maldonado when his nomination comes to the Assembly floor, which could happen as soon as Thursday.

Maldonado needs 41 Assembly votes to be confirmed. If every member of the Republican caucus supported Maldonado, he would still need at least 13 Democratic votes in the Assembly. 

The governor’s office quickly blamed the anticlimactic result on partisan animosity roiling Sacramento.

“It’s clearly partisan to decline to recommend a moderate who reaches across the aisle,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said after the vote.  “The far right and the far left just don’t like Abel, they can’t stand the guy."

The 41-year-old Maldonado’s name recognition soared last year when he provided the swing vote in the state’s agonizing budget debate.  In return for his “yes” he demanded open primaries and the abandonment of a proposed 12-cent-a-gallon gas-tax hike.

During one heated exchange, Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) snarled, “I don’t get nothing for my budget vote. ... Some people might call it extortion, but, whatever.”

In the afternoon’s strangest exchange, Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) asked Maldonado how he felt about people paying beauticians in cash when they get their nails done.  Looking slightly baffled, Maldonado blinked a few times, talked a little about the need to create jobs, then went back to his theme of the day, the need to change the tax structure “so we don’t have these huge spikes and decreases in revenue.”

For the record, he did not offer an opinion on how people should pay for manicures.

-- Jack Dolan in Sacramento