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Newsom for lieutenant governor

Not since Goodwin J. Knight succeeded to the governorship in 1953, after Earl Warren resigned to become chief justice, has a California lieutenant governor moved up in the middle of a term. Not since Gray Davis was elected governor in 1998 has a California lieutenant governor even been voted into the top office. Other than Knight and Davis, only two other lieutenant governors in the last century have become governor. Yet the role of governor-in-waiting overshadows all the other tasks that Californians have given their lieutenant governors to keep them busy. A person well suited to sit on the UC Board of Regents or the Workforce Investment Board is not necessarily the best suited to step in as governor should the need arise. In selecting their next lieutenant governor, voters should ask themselves which candidate would make the best governor.

In our view, the clear answer is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Current Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now running for reelection, has performed the job well enough, acting in the governor’s stead during the deadly San Bruno gas line explosion and signing bills in the governor’s absence.

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Maldonado, to his credit, is one of the state’s few elected Republicans who still place progress for the state ahead of ideological purity. Still, he doesn’t stack up as a potential governor compared with the creative and thoughtful Newsom. San Francisco may be an anomaly among California cities — mayors there have more power and leeway than their counterparts in other cities — yet even when compared with earlier San Francisco mayors, Newsom has been unusually innovative, experimenting with new ways to provide healthcare, house the homeless and make the city more livable.

There are few state issues he does not seem to have thought through. He offers intriguing plans for preserving higher education, for balancing environmental and business concerns, for fixing the budget mess.

As lieutenant governor, the impatient Newsom may have to keep himself in check, supporting the governor — or at least staying quiet — on minor issues when the two have a disagreement but forthrightly expressing himself when necessary. That’s part of the quandary of this odd office.

Californians will — sooner rather than later, we hope — revamp their 19th century Constitution, with its outdated offices and structures. But for now, we elect our lieutenant governor separately from our governor, and we should choose the most ready to step into the top position at a moment’s notice. That would be Newsom.

The Times’ endorsements in the Nov. 2 election are collected upon publication at latimes.com/opinion.


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