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Wrangling over Maldonado sets ominous tone for budget talks

April 27, 2010 |  5:43 pm

Abel Maldonado was sworn in as lieutenant governor Tuesday, but the wrangling over his confirmation and the timing of the race to replace him in the state Senate have set a hostile tone between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the Legislature as budget negotiations are due to begin.

Schwarzenegger had been critical of Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) for delaying Maldonado's confirmation until last week, more than four months after Maldonado was selected by Schwarzenegger.

Democrats wanted Schwarzenegger to consolidate the special election in Maldonado's Monterey-area Senate district with the November general election. That would have ensured a larger voter turnout and given Democrats a better change to pick up the seat.

Today, Schwarzenegger called for a summertime special election at an estimated extra cost of $2.5 million for the 15th senatorial district. Schwarzenegger may have talked about the need to fill Maldonado's seat as quickly as possible for a budget vote, but that logic doesn't hold when you consider the front-runner for Maldonado's seat is a sitting assemblyman, Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo). A Blakeslee Senate victory would leave an empty seat in the Assembly.

The governor's decision had more to do with a personality clash and power struggle with Pérez, who  dawdled and drew out Maldonado's confirmation to the frustration of the governor in hopes of forcing the governor to combine the two elections. While Schwarzenegger would not feud with Pérez publicly, his staff did little to disavow reporters of that notion when pressed Tuesday.

In the end, neither got what he wanted and, in dueling press conferences and press releases, each side had nasty words for the other. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called the governor's decision a "bonehead move" and said the decision to call an early election "certainly does not put me in a very good frame of mind in terms of dealing with this governor. Pérez called Schwarzenegger's decision "flat-out fiscally reckless and irresponsible" and "clearly motivated by petty, partisan politics."

Looks like it's shaping up to be another entertaining budget season.

--Anthony York in Sacramento