The gossip website Gawker even said the governor’s appearance on the ratings-suffering show returned Mr. Leno to “the national radar for an oh-so-brief moment by using it to announce his pick for Lt. Governor.”
But had anyone even heard of Senator Maldonado? Maybe the Californians watching. But since this state’s political drama is something of a national fascination, Americans are likely to hear a lot more about Maldonado as his nomination appears headed for a political fight in Sacramento.
Both houses of California’s legislature have 90 days to approve Schwarzenegger’s choice to fill the lieutenant governor seat, which was left vacant when John Garamendi, a Democrat, left to take a seat in Congress.
One of his major problems: plenty of adversaries from both parties.
Maldonado, one of Schwarzenegger’s few loyalists, is a moderate who sided with the governor to pass his temporary tax increase and the minimum wage hike despite overwhelming GOP opposition. Democrats are unhappy with the governor’s decision because Schwarzenegger tapped a Republican to fill a post vacated by a Democrat.
Maldonado is the son of Mexican field workers who helped his family build a small strawberry farm into a thriving agricultural business. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic Republican to hold statewide office in 130 years. But Democratic lawmaker Alberto Torrico told the Sacramento Bee that Latinos shouldn’t necessarily be celebrating.
“It’s not a great signal because he has turned his back on the Latino community on every single issue,” he said.
But some political analysts see Maldonado’s nomination as an important step for California Democrats. His appointment would open a seat in the state legislature that many Democrats think they could win, taking them one step closer to nabbing the coveted two-thirds majority in the California Senate -- which would mean they’d have the votes to undo vetoes and raise taxes.
At a Tuesday morning press conference in East Los Angeles, Schwarzenegger said that Maldonado “puts state before party and the peoples’ interests before the special interests.”
But even though the two are typically on the same page when it comes to state politics, they have had their differences. In 2006, Maldonado questioned Schwarzenegger’s commitment to Latinos. "When he needs Latinos, Latinos are always there for him. When Latinos need him, the answer's been no,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
He later apologized for those comments.
To be sure, Maldonado has had an impressive path from farm worker to local mayor to state senator. At the East L.A. press conference, he stressed how his story embodies the American dream.
“Only in America can a poor man like my dad cross the border in 1963 ... to meet my mother -- a poor woman, farm worker -- who came here to work hard, to save, to plan, to raise a family, and to pay taxes. And, now, see their son 40 years later be nominated by the governor of California as the next lieutenant governor,” he said.
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