Abel Maldonado served eight months as California’s 47th lieutenant governor. I am honored to look back and reflect on his tireless work to transform that office into a powerful and efficient political force.
After a grueling and politically charged 150-day confirmation period, he hit the ground running on April 27, 2010.
During his first week in office, Abel delivered an impassioned inaugural speech, vowing that he would always govern for the people – not political parties and promising to make creating and retaining California jobs his top priority.
When we took office on the Capitol’s first floor, Maldonado agreed to be creative and find ways to retain a statewide presence for constituents while working within a tight budget.
We slashed operating costs by nearly $150,000 by renegotiating contracts, cancelling others, closing an office and subleasing 90 percent of the space in another. I’m proud to say the bleeding ink budget we inherited now has a comfortable surplus.
Keeping his commitment to creating jobs, Maldonado resurrected and modernized the Commission on Economic Development, traveled the state at his own cost meeting with companies considering expanding to California, and signed a land development project that will create 8,000 new jobs and redevelop Oakland’s waterfront.
In July, on the 100-day anniversary of the horrific Gulf Coast oil spill, Maldonado led a modest delegation to Louisiana to bring experts on revitalizing tourism after natural disasters and providing oil disaster response volunteer training — two areas where California possesses unfortunate expertise.
While there, he met with Louisiana state officials tasked with oversight of offshore oil drilling to dissect lessons learned and opportunities missed.
Upon his return, he worked with Gov. Schwarzenegger to put this knowledge into an executive order that strengthens coastline protections, and signed the order as acting governor with the vulnerable Santa Barbara coastline behind him.
Shortly after surveying the Louisiana disaster, Abel was faced with one that hit much closer to home. We received the call late on a Thursday evening after the Governor had boarded a plane for China. There had been an explosion in San Bruno and, tragically, lives were lost. Fire was raging and the damage was uncertain.
Maldonado was in the town of San Bruno within hours using his powers as acting governor to activate emergency and response teams. He spent days there — mostly without sleep — shaking hands with volunteers and comforting homeowners while they wept the loss of every material possession. He brought food to volunteers and gift baskets to families of burn victims in ICU.
Political foes attempted to paint him as an opportunist. It was clear they were not there. I saw the faces – I watched as Abel held residents in his arms as they grieved the loss of life and the total devastation of their community.
He served as informer to the confused, comforter to the grief-stricken and interpreter at local town hall meetings and press conferences. He skipped a bill-signing planned to commemorate the first piece of legislation signed by a lieutenant governor in cooperation with a California governor. Instead, he signed the bill with no fanfare in the passenger seat of a Highway Patrol car – the only photographic documentation of that historic moment is on my camera phone.
Shortly after San Bruno went into recovery phase, the lieutenant governor marched right to the front of Bell City Hall and signed AB 900, the bill that returned $3 million in illegally collected property taxes to the residents of that city.
Signing the anti-corruption bills in Bell added to Maldonado’s track record of reform.
Everyone knows Maldonado is the god father of the open primary system, but couple that with his other successful proposition, 2009’s 1F that chastised legislators by giving voters the opportunity to take away their pay increases while they fail to do their job and you can imagine the distain party bosses feel for him.
It can be lonely in the Capitol when you put the people first, but Abel doesn’t mind. As his advisor and friend, I was thrilled he was and still is willing to distance himself from party insiders with dismal approval ratings and increasingly depleting power.
It may have been lack of party insider support or the blue wave that washed over California, but a disappointing November election didn’t slow Maldonado down. He used his compellingpersonal story to support the federal DREAM Act and spent three days in December traveling to border crossing sites in California, Arizona and Texas meeting with detainees and federal agents to learn about the challenges they face. He also used his influence post-election to stop a proposed DMV closure in his hometown to elevate an extra burden on already struggling locals.
The man who began his tenure making history for enduring the longest confirmation process in California’s history leaves office also having made history. He will be the first lieutenant governor who worked in partnership with the current administration to utilize his expertise and talents to bring tangible benefits to the people of California.
He can look back at his tenure and be confident that he has created a turning point in the history of California politics.
No longer is the office of the lieutenant governor a sitting place for gubernatorial hopefuls to take potshots at the sitting governor without lifting a finger to help fellow Californians. Abel Maldonado changed all that, and I am honored to have been there every step of the way.