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Yes, Maldonado would become governor

Gavin Newsom’s decision to delay his swearing in as lieutenant governor for one week could have some serious implications — at least in the unlikely event that something happened to Jerry Brown.

That’s because the lieutenant governor’s office isn’t sitting empty. Until Newsom takes the oath of office on Monday, Jan. 10, incumbent Republican Abel Maldonado is still the lieutenant governor. According to Article 5, Section 10 of the California Constitution: “The Lieutenant Governor shall become Governor when a vacancy occurs in the office of Governor.”

If Jerry Brown should die before next Monday, Maldonado would inherit the balance of Brown’s four-year term. Brown took office last  Monday, along with the state’s other constitutional officers. But Newsom remains mayor of San Francisco and doesn’t want to be sworn in as governor until those issues are resolved, pending last-minute political maneuvering with rivals on that city’s Board of Supervisors.

“If Brown is struck by lightning, Abel would become Governor for his term,” said Amanda Fulkerson, Maldonado’s chief of staff. “By constitution, he’s still Lieutenant Governor and we’re still here toiling away.”

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that anything will happen to Brown before Monday. The new governor is an uncommonly vigorous 72 year-old, a slim, hyperactive jogger with fewer wrinkles than many people who are years younger. Age related questions rarely came up during the campaign, except when Brown brought them up himself, noting that “at my age” he would free from thinking about any future political career after the governor’s office. And he has no known serious health problems.

If something did happen to Brown, Maldonado’s ascension to the Horseshoe likely would be challenged in court  — though, looking through the Constitution, it’s not clear there is anything that would prevent Maldonado from taking the office.

Long the one Hispanic and the one moderate among Republicans in the state Legislature, Maldonado voluntarily gave up the last two years on his Santa Maria Senate seat to accept the lieutenant governor appointment from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was confirmed by the state Senate last February, but was trounced by 11 points by Newsom when he ran for election to a full term.

While Newsom likely appears to be a liberal to many state voters — especially after the 2008 and 2010 campaign seasons featured TV ads in heavy rotation showing his “Whether you like it or not!” comments on same-sex marriage. 

For years, Newsom has battled a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors, led by the outspoken Chris Daly. Seeking to avoid having Daly and other more liberal supervisors appoint someone to finish out the last 11 months of Newsom’s term, Newsom decided to stay on until a new board is sworn in on Saturday. The supervisors can only pick an interim mayor if the office is vacant.

At that point, Daly will be termed out, along with twoother supervisors who have clashed with Newsom, Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell. Michela Alioto-Pier, generally a Newsom ally, also termed out. The new board will be more moderate. According to a story posted Wednesday by the San Francisco Chronicle, city administrator Ed Lee appears to have the votes to be named interim mayor.  

San Francisco holds an open November election for mayor, with no primary and without party affiliations being listed next to candidates’ names. In recent years, this has often led to runoffs between a more standard Democrat and challenger from the left. In 2003, Newsom held off a Green Party candidate, Matt Gonzalez, despite outspending him more than 10 to one. Four years before that, then-mayor Willie Brown survived a similar challenge from liberal Democrat Tom Ammianno, now a state Assemblyman representing the city.

According to voter registration statistics compiled by the Secretary of State’s office just before the November elections, Democrats hold a 56 percent to 10 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans in San Francisco. Greens have 1.9 percent of registered voters, their third-highest percentage in the state.

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