Leno: Even if Maldonado Becomes Lt. Gov, Republican Voters Won't Back a Latino
"The combination of votes he has passed and how they are received in a Republican primary along with his ethnicity would significantly reduce his viability," says Leno. "I've seen the polls. And Abel has the polls himself -- which is why he so strongly advocated for the open primary."
Maldonado was the one Republican to cross party lines last year and work with Democrats to craft a budget; in return, joked Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Maldonado demanded "a date with Brad Pitt." One of the conditions of Maldonado's "date" was ballot measure this year to establish open primaries in statewide offices -- which would be politically advantageous for the central coast Republican. "If you describe to a Republican primary voter someone with Abel's profile -- farmer, successful small business person, self-made -- with an Anglo name, he polls very well," continued Leno. "The same profile with Abel's name falls flat."
While the state senate approved Maldonado's appointment, the Assembly yesterday voted 37-35 in his favor -- falling short of the 41-vote majority. While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that's good enough for him, Leno and other state Democrats said that's a matter for the courts to decide.
Sen. Leland Yee, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano voted against Maldonado. Ammiano explained his decision by pointing out that Maldonado's record was "really, really terrible.
"His so-called crossing over the aisle was just a maneuver for self-gain," continued Ammiano. The Assemblyman noted that he did consider approving Maldonado if only to potentially free up his senate seat for a Democratic challenger -- but he thought it was too much of a longshot for the Republicans to lose the seat. In short, "I'm not that partial to Republicans."
Meanwhile, other Democratic sources told SF Weekly that Democratic Party chair John Burton was adamantly against the Maldonado confirmation -- which certainly isn't inconsequential.
Leno, intutively, differed with his colleagues. He thought Maldonado has been sent "a very discouraging message" regarding his ability to cross party lines -- and noted that, if the senate had spurned Maldonado, he'd have been back sitting among them for three more years, with very little impetus to work with Democrats again.
While Ammiano felt placing Maldonado into the Lieutenant Governor position would make him the front-runner come election time, Leno disagreed: "I don't believe there's any threat of Democrats not prevailing this November, even with Abel running as the Republican -- I doubt he could win a Republican primary as the incumbent."
Leno also felt there was a realistic shot to elect a Democratic senator in Maldonado's wake: "It would be a fight, but it would be doable."