Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, back in July:
The 2/3 requirement that we have in this state. I know it’s a tired old saw. But when you really think about, that is the cause of so much of the dysfunction in the legislature. you have a minority party that obviously worked in tandem with the governor that cost the state 6-7 billion dollars tonight for no good reason. To somehow improve your negotiating position. It is without question the most irresponsible act that I have seen in my 15 years of public service…I hope that the significance will truly capture enough attention that the people will decide it is time to change the system that allows the minority to essentially rule the day. That’s not just the Senate Republicans, it was the Governor too, who was apparently out to prove a point. And he proved a point.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, today:
State Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) released a statement expressing “grave doubts” about the choice. Maldonado needs the approval of the Democratic-dominated Legislature to take the post.
Steinberg cited the $2-million cost of the special election that would be required to fill Maldonado’s Senate seat, suggesting the money could be better spent scaling back recent fee hikes at state colleges and universities.
The Senate leader, under pressure to keep the post open for Democrats running for lieutenant governor themselves in next year’s election, also suggested he would like to see the job left vacant.
“It may be both fiscally and politically prudent to permit the people to make their own selection for this statewide office next year and avoid the expense of a costly special election,” his statement said.
Once again, we see that the State Senate is unwilling to actually do what it takes to overcome the 2/3rds rule that has crippled our state. Instead of seizing a golden opportunity to win one of the two seats we need to get a 2/3rds majority, Steinberg prefers to help coddle a fellow Democratic Senator’s unwillingness to face Maldonado in a general election.
Steinberg and other Senators are starting to put out the talking points to defend their weakness. But none of them hold water. The election to replace Maldonado here in SD-15 can be combined with the June primary, saving money. But even if it weren’t combined, the $2 million or so is statistically negligible when compared to the billions of dollars in cuts Steinberg is apparently willing to accept by refusing to take the chance to win a 2/3rds majority next year (along with the race to replace Jeff Denham in SD-12, a district with a D+12 registration advantage).
Additionally, voters themselves are going to have the chance to pick the next Lt. Gov., and confirming Maldonado will not change that fact, as Steinberg implies. If Steinberg believes Maldonado is a formidable candidate in the GOP primary or in the general election, he is badly misreading the political landscape.
Another argument we’re hearing is that Maldonado’s seat isn’t all that winnable:
Capitol Democrats said there was a more calculated political reason for not wanting to let Maldonado go. Democrats were humbled by this year’s election results in New Jersey and Virginia, and fear that 2010 could be a bad Democratic year. In addition, a low turn-out special election may make it tougher for a Democrat to win the 15th Senate District seat currently held by Maldonado.
Democrats have a slight 41-35 percent registration advantage in the district. Nearly 20 percent of the district’s voters are decline to state. The district has been home to moderate Republicans like Bruce McPherson, and overwhelming voted for Schwarzenegger over Phil Angelides in 2006 – 61 percent – 34 percent. But in 2004, John Kerry narrowly carried the district over George W. Bush – 52 percent – 46 percent.
What the article doesn’t note is that Obama carried the seat by 20 points last year. And if it is turnout they’re concerned about, a candidate like John Laird will have no problem generating enthusiasm from progressives and Democrats across the state, who will gladly spend a late spring here on the Central Coast to put a good progressive in the State Senate.
More damning is the basic philosophy behind this “gee, winning the 15th is gonna be hard” nonsense. If Democrats are scared of winning a seat where they hold a 6 point registration advantage, a seat Obama won by 20 points, then they really have a serious problem providing the leadership this state needs.
Next year we’ll hear Democratic legislators exhorting us to help them in other Assembly and Senate races, saying that we have to help them win 2/3rds. But by refusing to actually go for 2/3rds when given the chance, they’re showing the California Democratic base that the Senate is fundamentally unserious about restoring majority rule.
The only conclusion one can draw from this is that Senate Democrats don’t actually care about the 2/3rds rule. That they prefer the status quo to having to actually take the opportunities they are given and take a winnable seat, or to set up a hated rival (Maldonado) to spectacularly fail when he can’t get elected Lt. Gov. next year.
UPDATE: The Courage Campaign, where I work as Public Policy Director, released this statement today on the Maldonado appointment:
“The best thing we can do right now is to remove Sen. Abel Maldonado from a position of importance where he can do great damage, the California State Senate, and place him in an irrelevant post, the Lt. Governor’s office,” said Rick Jacobs, Chair of the 700,000-member Courage Campaign. “For once, we agree with the Governor – Abel Maldonado should be demoted to Lt. Governor.”