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Yes on Abel Maldonado

The California Assembly earlier this month failed to confirm state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) for lieutenant governor, even though the Senate voted 27 to 6 in favor. The rejection was a travesty, even in the hyper-partisan culture of Sacramento.

Many Democratic members of the Assembly assailed Maldonado’s voting record. Others excoriated him for extracting concessions for his vote on last year’s budget. Although there is truth to those arguments, neither of them override his courage in standing up to his own party and consistently voting for a budget compromise.

We voted to confirm Maldonado not because we like his voting record -- often we do not -- but because he demonstrated the quality we have seen far too little of in our combined 30 years of public service: political courage.

Last year, Maldonado voted for a budget that contained increases in taxes and fees. In doing so, he put his career on the line and significantly diminished his chances of ever winning a GOP primary again.

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A core unifying principle of the Republican Party is to oppose any tax and fee increases. Virtually all elected GOP officials have signed a pledge to oppose all tax increases. That document doesn’t say never vote for a pro-choice bill or a pro-environmental bill. It says one thing and one thing only: Never vote for taxes.

Maldonado concluded that the rigid anti-tax principle was harming Californians more than it was helping. He believed that it was more important to raise revenue so that we did not decimate education, essential services or public safety.

If any Democrats think it was easy for him to cast that vote, they have not been paying attention. The political cemetery is littered with GOP legislators who voted for a budget.

Former Republican Assembly leader Mike Villines of Clovis demonstrated tremendous backbone last year. He drove a hard bargain during negotiations, but he ultimately voted for the budget. He was rewarded with death threats to himself and his family, and the loss of his leadership position.

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Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia) also showed great courage last year in voting for the budget. As a result, he was skewered in his own district and went through such a bruising recall campaign that he is not running for reelection.

Former Republican Senate leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto, who also extracted concessions, nevertheless showed tremendous bravery in going against the Republican Party’s “no tax increase” dogma by voting for the budget last year. A majority of his Republican Senate colleagues rewarded him by removing him as their leader in the middle of the night.

To be fair to our Democratic colleagues, our caucus members stand up and take the tough votes on budget after budget. We do the right thing as a matter of course. So it is worth celebrating that a handful of our Republican colleagues joined us for a time.

The Senate and Assembly soon will vote on bills to address the $5-billion to $6-billion deficit for this fiscal year. The deficit is projected to be more than double that in the next fiscal year. The flap over Maldonado’s confirmation is likely to affect any bill that requires a two-thirds vote to raise revenue.

This hyper-partisanship by both parties has to stop. During these extraordinarily difficult economic times, the one thing voters are demanding is for elected officials to work across the aisle and get things done. And that takes courage.

We listened carefully to Maldonado’s presentation and answers during his confirmation hearings. He was impressive. It also was compelling that numerous groups wrote letters or came to testify in his support, including the NAACP, carpenters, firefighters and law enforcement.

The governor has renominated Maldonado, and the Legislature has a chance to vote again on his confirmation. If Assembly Democrats fail, for partisan reasons, to confirm a Republican who courageously voted for the budget last year, what hope do we have of securing any Republican votes for a fair budget this year, or the years to come?

Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee. Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

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