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Feud over Maldonado settled, Schwarzenegger and Democrats start a new one [Updated]

April 27, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado -- formerly state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) -- was sworn in by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Capitol Tuesday, ending months of conflict with Democrats in the Legislature over his confirmation.

Whereupon, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers promptly opened a new conflict -- this one over the special election to fill Maldonado's Senate seat.

The long and the short of it: Democrats want to consolidate a likely run-off to fill Maldonado's seat with the general election in November, while the governor and his staff indicate he will exercise his power to hold the election sooner. That would require a standalone special election that some pundits say would favor Republicans, who are believed to turn out in greater numbers for small elections. It would also cost the five counties in the 15th Senate District at least $2.5 million, Democrats say.

"It's a bonehead move," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told reporters Monday. "It certainly does not put me in a very good frame of mind in terms of dealing with this governor. He's a lame duck."

In a statement, Assembly Speaker John Pérez called Schwarzenegger's move "flat-out fiscally reckless and irresponsible," and "clearly motivated by petty, partisan politics."

[Updated at 5:39 p.m. For their part, the governor and his aides blamed the lawmakers for playing politics by delaying Maldonado's confirmation until it was too late for the primary election for the Senate seat to be consolidated with the other June 8 primaries. All this was intended to put the run-off on the November ballot, the governor's people say.]

Asked about Steinberg's comments, Schwarzenegger reddened when told he'd been called a lame duck, but he said he wouldn't respond in kind.

"For you guys, it's always a lot of fun when people argue and fight in the Capitol, and that sells tickets, but I don't want to get into that, because I want to work with him," Schwarzenegger said. The governor suggested Steinberg was mad because he hadn't called him as promised upon arriving at the Capitol Tuesday morning. "That was a screw-up on my part," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor said he wants to fill Maldonado's seat "the fastest possible way," so a senator would be in place for budget negotiations later in the year.

"There's going to be a lot of tough decisions that need to be made," Schwarzenegger said. "This is why we need to fill that spot as quickly as possible, and that's No. 1."

But the governor's logic doesn't work if one of the expected candidates, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), is successful in replacing Maldonado. That would fill the hole in the Senate by creating a new one in the Assembly.

-- Michael Rothfeld and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento