California political drama bad for Schwarzenegger |

California political drama bad for Schwarzenegger

Cathy Bussewitz and Samantha Young
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – At the start of his final year in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed to California lawmakers to work with him to pull the state out of its financial crisis and reform state government.

Democrats in the state Assembly sent him a reply this week when they rejected his nominee for lieutenant governor, saying they won’t rubber-stamp his agenda.

The confirmation vote for state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from California’s Central Coast, should have been routine. Instead, it degenerated into partisan sniping and a rejection that could lead to a legal fight between the governor and Legislature.

The developments suggest a tough final year in office for the Republican governor as he tries to stabilize state finances and repair his political legacy.

“If this is any test of how things need to be done – the cooperation and the working environment between Democrats, Republicans and the Legislature – it is far from what it needs to be to get things done,” said former Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat.

California voters already had record-low confidence in the Legislature’s ability to compromise and take meaningful action. The failed confirmation suggests the political process could grow even more dysfunctional, said Mark Baldassare, president of the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California.

“There are really deep problems in the ability of the governor and the Legislature to work together and find common solutions to help the state move forward,” Baldassare said. “Things were difficult to begin with, and now (voters) feel like things are going to be even more difficult to get things done.”

The Assembly Democrats responsible for turning back Schwarzenegger’s nominee say the governor should never have chosen a Republican to fill the seat, which was left vacant when Democrat John Garamendi won a special election to Congress last year.

They also complained it would give Maldonado an unfair advantage in this year’s elections as he runs for lieutenant governor.

Some Democrats even criticized Schwarzenegger’s description of Maldonado as a moderate, an image largely built on his vote a year ago to pass a midyear budget fix that raised taxes. Maldonado only voted for the higher taxes after securing a backroom deal that forced the Legislature to put an open-primary measure on this June’s ballot.

Under that system, the top two vote-getters in a primary election, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. In theory, an open primary forces candidates to appeal to a larger voter base and would make it more difficult for ultra liberal or ultra conservative candidates to advance.

Democrats said Maldonado’s overall voting record indicates he has not consistently acted in a bipartisan way.

“So many of my colleagues are talking about … compromise, bipartisanship, nonpartisanship … but when it comes to the bigger picture issues of this state, we all go to our corners,” said Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, who voted against Maldonado.

Despite the Assembly’s vote, Schwarzenegger said Thursday he will install Maldonado into the empty lieutenant governor’s spot by the end of the month. A legal showdown over the issue would threaten to further harm what little working relationship is left between the Legislature and the governor, imperiling plans to close California’s $20 billion budget deficit.

“That will be laying down the gauntlet, and that would result in escalation between the two of them,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “That would be a real question of the legislative branch versus the executive branch. I’m sure the governor is unhappy.”

The governor’s attorney has argued that Maldonado’s nomination only fails if a majority of the Assembly – or 41 lawmakers – votes to reject it. That’s a different interpretation of the law than one provided by the Assembly speaker’s office, which argues nominees need at least 40 affirmative votes.

Maldonado said the Assembly’s vote on his nomination illustrates at least one thing all sides could agree on – the political gridlock in the state capital. He said voters have become disgusted by it.

“They want results. They want some budget reforms. They want jobs,” Maldonado told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after the vote. “It’s just incredible. The Legislature is broken. It’s chaos.”쇓

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