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Schwarzenegger's lieutenant governor nominee clears first political hurdle

February 3, 2010 |  5:16 pm
State Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) on Wednesday moved a step closer to becoming California’s next lieutenant governor when the Senate Rules Committee backed him to fill a vacancy created when John Garamendi was elected to Congress.

Maldonado told the panel that his priorities would be to reduce the state’s unemployment rate, and make the university systems more accessible and their operations more transparent. He said he would not support additional tax increases or raises in college fees, and opposes a plan to increase offshore oil drilling.

“I want to make the lieutenant governor’s office the public face for job creation,’’ Maldonado told the committee.

The panel’s bipartisan 4-0 vote keeps alive the nomination by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, sending Maldonado’s appointment to the full Senate for action on whether he should serve out the remaining 10 months of the current term. If neither the Senate nor the Assembly vote to reject Maldonado’s appointment, he will assume the office Feb. 22.

Senate leader and committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) commended the moderate Republican for being one of three Republican senators who he said  “crossed over”’  last year and joined the Democratic majority in solving a $42-billion budget shortfall with a plan that included tax increases.

Maldonado is also running for lieutenant governor in this year’s election and one of his expected opponents, Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), recused himself Wednesday from participating in Wednesday’s committee vote, saying any involvement might seem “self-serving.’’

Steinberg said he is “troubled’’ that Maldonado has sometimes seemed to him to take a hard line against raising revenue to balance the budget “in isolation’’ without giving enough consideration to the potential result of that position being deeper cuts to schools  and health services. He also questioned Maldonado for insisting as part of last year’s budget compromise that an excise tax on gasoline be removed from the proposal.

“I thought any increase in the gas tax would have hurt Californians,’’ Maldonado said.

Maldonado is likely to cast one more budget vote before coming up for confirmation before the full Senate, as the Senate prepares to take up a round of budget proposals early next week. At times, Maldonado's confirmation hearing seemed to telegraph what may be before the house next week.

Maldonado said he would not rule out supporting a proposal to increase the tax withholding on independent contractors to bring money to the state sooner, but said he opposes a proposal to eliminate the two-third vote requirement for the Legislature adopting budgets.

“Sen. Maldonado has been an amiable colleague in our house and has been open to the spirit of bipartisan cooperation,’’ Steinberg said, but added “My vote today is not a political endorsement.’’

Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) supported the confirmation, saying: “We historically support our colleagues when they are qualified, when they are competent.’’

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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