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Maldonado ready to talk about confirmation

January 20, 2010 |  8:00 am

With his political fate resting in the hands of his colleagues, Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) has learned to be patient. But as the Legislature convenes Tuesday, Maldonado, who was selected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the next lieutenant governor, says he's ready to broach the subject of his political future with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

Maldonado had hoped to talk to the two leaders Tuesday, but they had already left for a lobbying trip to Washington.

Either house of the Legislature has the power to thwart Maldonado’s confirmation. If neither house rejects Maldonado by Feb. 22, he will automatically become lieutenant governor.

Maldonado says he understands the legislative leadership wants him around to help solve the state’s budget crisis before allowing him to be promoted.

"I think the pro-tem wants me to be here to vote, and I want to vote for a good midyear correction." The state faces a roughly $20-billion budget gap.

Maldonado said he would vote for a budget fix that "does not have revenue increases and has bipartisan support." But he did say he supported going back to voters to redirect funds from mental health and early childhood development programs, even though voters rejected those proposals in last May’s special election.

"I believe those measures would have passed if they weren’t coupled with the rest of the special election proposals," Maldonado said.

One of the biggest issues surrounding Maldonado’s confirmation is the governor’s proposal to allow limited offshore oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast – a project known as Tranquillion Ridge. The proposal would need legislative approval or an OK from the three-member state lands commission before proceeding. The lieutenant governor would cast the deciding vote on the commission.

"I’ve voted against the proposal three times," Maldonado said. "As lieutenant governor, I would take each issue as it comes before the commission, but I don’t know how much clearer I can be on that issue."

Maldonado lashed out at Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who has said he believes Maldonado was appointed by Schwarzenegger in exchange for a promise to support the Tranquillion Ridge project.

"It’s so crazy," said Maldonado. "No deal has been cut." Nava is "spreading stories that have absolutely no basis in fact."

When asked about Maldonado's comments, Nava said, "It's hard for me to believe there wasn't an agreement reached" between Schwarzenegger and Maldonado. "Let him sign a written public pledge that he will vote no on T-Ridge. Then I might feel some comfort."

-- Anthony York in Sacramento

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