Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this afternoon put legislative Democrats in a bit of a bind with his appointment of Sen. Abel Maldonado as lieutenant governor.
It's unlikely that the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly would have been inclined to confirm any Republican to replace the Democrat who was elected to the office, now-Congressman John Garamendi. But they are especially unlikely to confirm a young, ambitious Republican such as Maldonado, giving him a high-profile appointment that he could leverage into a campaign for the office in 2010.
Confirmation becomes even more problematic when you consider that Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, wants to run for lieutenant governor in 2010. Of course, two Republican senators -- Jeff Denham and Sam Aanestad -- are also campaigning for the office, but as much as they don't want to see Maldonado get a leg up, chances are they'll let Democrats do the heavy lifting in rejecting his nomination.
The specter of rejecting Maldonado's nomination presents some unpleasantries for Democrats. What kind of signal would it send the party's Latino base if Democrats were to turn down the nomination of a Latino who is the son of a Mexican immigrant who worked his way up from farm worker to owner of a successful agricultural operation on the Central Coast? Additionally, Maldonado has been a true moderate on immigration issues and protecting minority rights.
Some Democrats, notably Santa Barbara Assemblyman Pedro Nava, have said they would try to block Schwarzenegger's nomination if it meant opening the door to renewed offshore drilling by providing a pivotal pro-oil vote on the State Lands Commission. But Maldonado voted against legislation this summer that sought to override the commission's rejection of the Tranquillon Ridge oil project off the Santa Barbara coast, so that issue can't be credibly used as grounds for rejection.
Expect Democrats to make an issue over the timing of the appointment, because confirmation would force the expense of a special election to fill Maldonado's Senate seat. They will argue that Schwarzenegger should delay an appointment until a later date, when a special election could be timed to coincide with the June primary. It's a very thin argument -- especially given that lawmakers so frequently force such special elections themselves when they jump ship mid-term to run for higher office -- but it's likely the best one they'll come up with.
The likelhood is that Democrats will turn down Schwarzenegger's choice. But the fact that the choice is Maldonado will make the task unsavory and, potentially, politically damaging.