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When Bill Clinton famously mused “what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” he had distilled the political art of verbal alchemy to its very essence: any word can mean what you want it to mean. George W. Bush put his own special spin on “patriotism.” Today in Sacramento, they are obliterating the meaning of “nonpartisan.”

The Republican Governor and the Democratic head of the Senate want us to believe that being nonpartisan means voting to confirm Republican Able Maldonado, the Governor’s appointment to replace Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, a Democrat who left the office to take a seat in Congress.   

Following the Senate Rules Committee hearing and recommendation to the full body to confirm Mr. Maldonado, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg warned his fellow Democrats to avoid making Maldonado’s nomination “another partisan squabble”.

In reality, however, the Governor’s nomination and the Senate’s confirmation process could not be any more partisan.  It is quintessential backroom politics, with power brokers gathered behind closed doors to carve up the political spoils.  And there are plenty of spoils to go around.

The Republican governor gets to replace a Democrat with a Republican – and not just any Republican, but one of the precious few who broke ranks with their colleagues and helped him leverage Democrats to get his budget.  The Republican senator, Maldonado, gets his payback for his loyalty, allowing him the mantle of incumbency as he seeks the lieutenant governor’s job in November.  The Democratic Senate Leader, Steinberg, gets what he thinks is a good shot at claiming Maldonado’s Senate seat for the Democrats, placing him just shy of a bullet-proof, two-thirds Democratic majority.

Does anyone actually believe this is the kind of bipartisan cooperation that Californians are looking for?  To quote President Obama, the “people want us to care less about our jobs and more about their jobs.”

So, what are we left with? Once you strip away the façade of nonpartisanship, there is no reason to confirm Sen. Maldonado now and circumvent the election process.  Voters will have the opportunity to elect a new lieutenant governor this June and November. The election will offer a field of candidates who emerged from public campaigns instead of someone anointed in the closed rooms of the state Capitol.

California will be no worse off if it waits for the upcoming election.  My guess is most Californians do not know what a lieutenant governor does.  I have served in the Legislature for twenty years and I have yet to see why this office is needed.  

I suppose the purpose of the lieutenant governor is to be a heartbeat away from the Governorship.  However, no sitting Governor has ever expired in my lifetime.  Nevertheless, the Constitution establishes a line of succession in the event of an unfortunate demise of a sitting Governor, which works with or without a lieutenant governor.

Through the years, the Legislature has had to create duties for the office to justify its existence.  So far, the lieutenant governor sits on the UC Board of Regents, California State University (CSU) Board of trustees, the State Lands Commission, and chairs the Commission for Economic Development.  Typically, the lieutenant governor does not even sit on the State Lands Commission.  A representative appointed by the office serves instead.  Similarly, the Lieutenant Governor is merely an ex officio (non voting) member of the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees, and well, what is the Commission for Economic Development?   In fact, the office is so inconsequential; I have coauthored AB with Republican Assemblyman Kevin Jefferies to abolish the office. How’s that for bipartisanship?

If Gov. Schwarzenegger had desired a nonpartisan process for the confirmation of his nomination, he would have appointed someone who agreed to not run for reelection.  If Senator Darrell Steinberg wanted a nonpartisan process, he would have insisted on it. This was done to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quakenbush.              

The bitter irony of Mr. Steinberg’s support for Sen. Maldonado and his warning to Democrats about failing to confirm him is that, under camouflage of nonpartisanship, the two parties have stacked the deck with a candidate who offers as proof of his nonpartisan credentials his public support for “Open Primaries” — elections that allow voters to vote for any candidate of their choice no matter their Party affiliation, thus handicapping the ability of political parties to do exactly what is being done by Schwarzenegger, Steinberg and Maldonado.

If this is nonpartisanship, count me out. 


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