CA Senator Wins Big In Budget Fight - For Now

By: Don Thompson, Associated Press Email
By: Don Thompson, Associated Press Email

SACRAMENTO (AP) - Just last summer, state Sen. Abel Maldonado
took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota
and used his time in the spotlight to denounce tax increases.

On Thursday, he cast the decisive vote as the California
Legislature approved a package of bills designed to close the
state's $42 billion budget deficit. That included nearly $13
billion in tax increases - to the state sales tax, personal income
tax and vehicle license fee.

Defending his vote on the Senate floor, Maldonado tried to
deflect conservative venom by displaying a photograph from 1972 -
of former California Gov. Ronald Reagan during the signing of a
bill to increase taxes.

He also was able to force Democrats and Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger to remove a 12-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax
and authorize a ballot measure asking voters to freeze lawmakers'
salaries when the state runs a deficit.

"If we're going to take from the people of California, then we
got to give something back," he said Thursday morning after the
Senate approved the package of bills. "I think the people of
California are better off with this budget. It's a hard budget."

He will get to find out relatively soon whether his vote - and
the concessions he received in exchange - will help his political
career or end it.

Among Maldonado's demands was getting a measure on the June 2010
ballot that would create fully open primary elections, a system
that could help middle-of-the-road candidates. Moderates such as
Maldonado often have trouble winning primary elections because the
process is dominated by hard-core liberals and conservatives.

Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, who has been lobbying
lawmakers around the country to sign a no-taxes pledge, said the
potential reforms Maldonado received in exchange for his vote won't
help him with voters - especially after he signed the pledge and
then backed away.

"He caved. He didn't win a compromise. He raised taxes instead
of reining in taxes," said Norquist, president of the Washington,
D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform.

Maldonado, the son of immigrant farm laborers, has made no
secret of his aspirations for statewide office. His family grows
strawberries, broccoli and lettuce on their 6,000-acre farm in
Santa Barbara County, but Maldonado has been drawn more to elective
office than the fields.

He won his first election, to the Santa Maria City Council, at
age 26 and was elected mayor two years later. He came to the state
Assembly in 1998 and won elections to his Senate seat in 2004 and

While he desires higher office, his moderate positions put him
at odds with most GOP primary voters. Maldonado, 41, lost the 2006
primary for state controller to a more conservative Republican, who
in turn lost to Democrat John Chiang.

He said he hopes voters support an open-primary, which would
allow the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, to face off in
the general election.

But the open primary question won't be decided for another year
and would not affect congressional and state races until 2012.
Maldonado is termed out of the Senate in 2012, leading into what
could be the first open primary in 2014, when statewide positions
such as governor, treasurer or controller will be on the ballot.

Maldonado gained name recognition and substantive concessions
during the budget impasse, but it may have come at too high a
price, said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center
for Governmental Studies, an independent nonpartisan think tank.

"Any Republican who voted for a tax increase is an endangered
species," Stern said. "I would not bet on him."
Associated Press writers Judy Lin and Samantha Young contributed to this report.

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