Governor calls Aug. 17 special runoff election for Maldonado’s seat

Gov. Schwarzenegger set Aug. 17 as the date for a special runoff election to fill the 15th Senate District seat of Abel Maldonado, who was sworn in earlier as California’s lieutenant governor.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, rejected suggestions from Democrats that he consolidate the special election with the Nov. 2 general election, a move that would have saved the state money – perhaps $2.5 million by one estimate – but likely would have given Democrats an edge because of a greater turnout.

Traditionally, special elections have low turnout.

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, calling Schwarzenegger a “lame duck,” described the governor’s decision as “not cool.”

Schwarzenegger declined to get into a public argument with Steinberg, and said reporters appeared interested in sparking a conflict. He did not disclose his preference for the runoff date, but Capitol sources said he was considering the late summer or early fall.

“For you guys, it’s always a lot of fun when people yell and fight in the Capitol, because it sells tickets,” Schwarzenegger said. “We need to fill that seat as quickly as possible.”

The Senate confirmed Maldonado on Monday, giving the Santa Maria Republican his first statewide position and replacing John Garamendi, who left the job to take a seat in Congress.

The Senate approved Maldonado in a 25-7 vote, just days after the Assembly gave its approval. A special election to fill Maldonado’s 15th Senate District seat has not yet been called.

Monday’s action marked the second time that the Senate voted to confirm Maldonado: In the first go-round, the Senate approved him, but the Assembly blocked him. Gov. Schwarzenegger immediately reappointed him, setting the stage for another confirmation fight.

Maldonado’s Central Coast district spans from San Luis Obispo to southern Santa Cruz County. Democrats hold a small registration advantage in the district, and it is considered one of the few remaining competitive legislative districts in the state.

Maldonado had been at odds with his own party for his votes on Democrat-drafted budgets. He also raised concerns among environmentalist that he was considering support a controversial offshore oil-drilling project off the Santa Barbara coast. Maldonado has since said he would not support the project. If he is confirmed as lieutenant governor, Maldonado will have a seat on the three-member State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over drilling.

Eds: Updates earlier version  with Aug. 17 date

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