Monday, February 15, 2010

Have You Noticed California lacks a Lieutenant Governor?

The Constitutional office of Lieutenant Governor has been vacant for three months in California.

Have you noticed? No.

Has it made a difference? No.

Do you even know who the previous Lieutenant Governor was? For the record, it’s John Garamendi.

Who was his predecessor? Cruz Bustamante.

Lieutenant Governor Garamendi was elected to Congress on November 3, 2009, and immediately absconded to Washington on November 5. That’s all you need to know.

Just a heartbeat away from the governorship, and he wanted to be last in seniority in Congress.

California’s lieutenant governor actually has more powers than the Vice president of the United States. Every time the Governor leaves the state, every time the Governator flies to the opening ceremony in Vancouver, home to Austria, or to an annual body building conference in Ohio, the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor of California. He’s also a Regent of the University of California.

That’s why Lieutenant Governor Garamendi gave it up.

Imagine trying to deal with an absentee governor, broken budget, the wildfires, floods and landslides, a dysfunction legislature, and a financially strapped UC! The position is no longer ceremonial.

Since the Governor ofetn leaves California, who makes these critical decisions in his absence? By an amazing coincidence the powers devolve upon the California Attorney General, the once and perhaps future governor, Jerry Brown.

The state is saving money by not paying a lieutenant governor, but the salary is chump change compared to the $20 billion budget deficit.

The vacancy exists because Sacramento is broken. Decisions become pure politics, driven by the primary voters in each party and fears of future opponents.

Governor Schwarzenegger nominated Senator Abel Maldonado of Santa Barbara as Lieutenant Governor.

Senator Maldonado has two unique characteristics in Sacramento. First, he is a Hispanic Republican, the oldest son of immigrant farm workers. Second, he is a moderate Republican who’s willing to cross the aisle.

Senator Maldonado has two disqualifications. First, he angered conservatives and the two talk show hosts on KFI, John and Ken, by voting to raise taxes. Second, like most politicians, he is very ambitious. He’s planning to run for higher office. Democrats do not want to give the Hispanic Senator a statewide platform to run against them.

The California Legislature, in this case the Assembly, has shown why it is held in even lower regard than Congress.

Under the California Constitution, the legislature has 90 days to confirm or reject the nomination. Failure to act results in the nominee being confirmed.

The senate voted to confirm Senator Maldonado last week, but then the assembly voted 37-35 to confirm him last Thursday. The vote was 37-35 to confirm. All 35 negative votes were cast by Democrats.

37-35 looks like a majority, but under the legislature’s rules, a majority must be 41 votes, half plus one of the 80 seat Assembly. This, a majority is not a majority, which is what one has come to expect from Sacramento.

Governor Schwarzenegger thought of going ahead, assuming the senator was confirmed, and litigating if necessary.

Instead, he pulled the nomination last Friday, and plans on his return to the state tomorrow to reappoint the senator to the lieutenant governorship.

The 90 day clock runs anew, and the circus resumes.

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