The California state Assembly failed today to approve Sen. Abel Maldonado for the vacant lieutenant governor post, setting the stage for a possible legal fight over his confirmation.
After being confirmed by the Senate this morning, Maldonado ultimately fell four votes short of 41-vote majority needed in the Assembly, where the final tally was 37-35. A rejection leaves Maldonado in his Senate seat, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger perhaps looking for a new nominee. Maldonado has said he will run for the office this year no matter what.
But the governor's office challenged the assertion that the Assembly vote counts as a rejection under the state constitution and said that based on the votes taken today, Maldonado would be sworn in to fill the post vacated by Democrat John Garamendi's election last fall to Congress.
Schwarzenegger tapped Maldonado for the post in November, starting a 90-day clock for lawmakers to approve or reject the nomination. The nominee also takes office if he is "neither confirmed nor refused confirmation by both houses" within that period, according to the state constitution.
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"The governor's office is officially interpreting the constitution to say that unless there are 41 votes against Senator Maldonado — he's our next lieutenant governor," Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said in a statement. "If the Legislature interprets the constitution differently, we're prepared to defend our position in court."
The Assembly's chief clerk disagreed with the governor's stance, saying that failure to secure a majority vote constitutes rejection.
An earlier vote in the Assembly also fell short, setting off an afternoon of caucus meetings and lobbying by Maldonado for the final votes he needed to win confirmation. Republican Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, who is recovering from pneumonia, traveled to Sacramento from his home in Hanford early this afternoon to cast a vote in Maldonado's favor.
The Assembly action came after the Senate voted 26-7 to confirm Maldonado for the post, which has been vacant since Democrat John Garamendi was elected to Congress in November.