Indulge me for a minute while I talk California state politics. I swear there’s a lesson for everyone…
John Garamendi, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, won election to Congress earlier this month. Arnold Schwarzenegger has the opportunity to appoint a replacement, who must then be confirmed by the Senate. He named that replacement last night on the Jay Leno Show (I’m sure announcing a Constitutional officer in state politics did wonders for Jay’s ratings): a guy named Abel Maldonado.
This is important for one big reason. There are 26 districts out of 40 in the California state Senate which have major Democratic registration advantages. And there are two swing districts. Because of the insane 2/3 rules to pass a budget or raise taxes, Democrats need 27 votes on the most important pieces of legislation. And they even hold one of the swing districts. But they’re two votes short of a 2/3 majority right now because of two seats in the central part of the state, held by Republicans Jeff Denham and… Abel Maldonado.
If Democrats didn’t botch a recall effort against Denham and actually run somebody against Maldonado in 2008, they might have that 2/3 majority already. But Denham is termed out next year, and there’s already a credible Democratic candidate expected to win that seat. So Maldonado getting the LG position and vacating his seat sets Democrats up to win 2/3 in the Senate, without too much trouble. They’d have a great Senate candidate too – John Laird, the former chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. Registration advantage is major in these huge state Senate districts, which are bigger than Congressional districts, and Dems hold a 41-34 edge.
But that would all be too easy, given personal jealousies and career advancement. Maldonado is considered a “moderate” in the Senate Republican caucus, because he only votes 90% of the time with his party, and he actually bothers to ask for outrageous pieces of pork or personal favors when it comes down to budget time, getting them in exchange for his holdout vote. Because of this heresy, he could never win a statewide Republican primary straight-up, and he has designs on higher office. Schwarzenegger is appointing him so he has the power of incumbency in a statewide LG run.
(Maldonado actually forced an open primary law onto the ballot next year as a chit for last year’s budget vote, so he could get decline-to-state votes in a future primary. He also tried to run on the Democratic AND Republican ballot lines last year. He’s a horrible person.)
Now Denham, who is also running for LG next year, will probably clean his clock in the primary. But there is a Democrat running for LG as well, the current Senate Majority Leader, Dean Florez. And he doesn’t want to go up against a perceived moderate in a statewide race. So he’s looking to actually torpedo the Maldonado nomination and the chance at a 2/3 Democratic majority in the Senate because of personal aggrandizement. Here’s his statement:
It is especially troubling to see the Governor miss out on an opportunity to save taxpayer money by rewarding Senator Maldonado with a post that could be left open until the next election only months away.
At minimum, since the Lieutenant Governor seat was held by a Democrat, appointing a Republican to the post only complicates and heightens the partisan divide.
The Governor has put Senator Maldonado in a difficult position to say the least. I don’t see the Senate confirming him.
Nice tactic there, Dean, saying that the LG position is so meaningless that it could be left open for a year, while at the same time running to be the LG.
Florez, as Majority Leader, may get some support for blocking the nomination of Maldonado, which is purely a selfish play. The term limits in California are very short, and if you want to move on from the Senate, it helps to have a friend in high places. Florez might be that friend, and a vote favorable to him now might pay off later.
So this is where we are. California is dying on the vine, with projected $20 billion deficits for years and years, debt service swallowing all ability to provide state services, a catastrophic shortfall in the state unemployment insurance fund and a 30% fee hike in the state university system. This is a decaying state. And the one way out is somehow getting around the minority veto that forces the state to be run like Grover Norquist is in charge. But when the picture-perfect opportunity comes around to actually get that 2/3 majority in one chamber of the legislature, they may piss it away over one man’s career aspirations.
Days like these make me want to move…