If you've been following California politics and our budget crisis at all, you'll recognize the name Abel Maldonado.
Abel Maldonado is a "moderate" Republican who represents the 15th State Senate district, located in Central California. Surprisingly, SD-15 is a majority Democratic district, and word has it that our former Senate Pro Tem, Don Perata, discouraged any challenges to Abel Maldonado as repayment for any favorable votes that Maldonado could give to the majority.
So why has the name of Abel Maldonado been so prominent recently, and what does the budget crisis have to do with Republican racism?
See, things are reasonably perverse in California. We don't require a simple majority vote like 47 other states do to pass a budget and impose new taxes. We require a 2/3rds vote. Now, the California State Assembly and State Senate are indeed overwhelmingly Democratic, but not 2/3rds Democratic--we're a few votes short.
The end result is that when it comes time to pass a budget in California, the Republicans can hold the majority hostage for as long as they want until their list of demands is met. And every single budget is a teeth-pulling process of trying to pick off a handful of Republican legislators through enough enticements that they're willing to face the wrath of their wingnut constituents to get what they want.
Well, during the last budget crisis, Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg was looking for one last vote. Enter...Abel Maldonado.
Abel Maldonado could usually be counted on to be one of the first to compromise, but his position this cycle as one of the few who actually would gave him an unholy position of power, and Senator Maldonado exploited it. He had a particular list of demands, including, most prominently, an open primary system similar to what the State of Washington has: the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election, regardless of party.
Maldonado has been making the case that an open primary system would be a necessary reform that would prevent extremists from achieving power and has been saying that there's nothing in it for him personally. Nate Silver disagrees, but that's neither here nor there.
The real question is: why does Abel Maldonado want an open primary? The actual answer has to do with something very simple: his last name.
See, Maldonado is Hispanic. He used to be a strawberry grower in Central California. And if Maldonado were a Democrat, he could use that story to gain votes. But unfortunately for him, he's not a Democrat. He's...well...a member of that other party. And, you see, Maldonado has ambition for statewide office. Given the fact that he has been very aggressive against State Controller John Chiang, it's widely assumed that he will seek to challenge Chiang for Controller in 2010, especially since he lost the primary in 2006.
So what's the problem? I'll let Willie Brown of the San Francisco Chronicle take it from here:
State Sen. Abel Maldonado, the deciding vote in the big state budget morass, came to see me last week with a very interesting story about his fellow Republicans.
I was telling him what a good name he has, because no one can figure out if it is Spanish, Italian or Portuguese.
He proceeded to tell me that when he was running for state controller in 2006, he commissioned a poll to gauge the feelings of Republican voters in Orange County.
The poll came back showing him losing to the Democrat by almost 2-1.
"This is impossible," Maldonado said. "Orange County is loaded with Republicans."
They did the poll again and the results were the same - the Democrat won.
So Maldonado ran a little test. He had the pollster go back and give voters the same information as before - his age, that he's a rancher and the like - but this time, he said, tell them the candidate's name is Smith.
The result: Smith came out ahead.
So he ran another poll, a Republican named Garcia vs. a Democrat named Smith.
Smith won again, even among Republicans.
At that point, Maldonado said, "We're not spending another nickel - there ain't no way that anyone with a Spanish name is going to win anything in a Republican primary in this state."
He was right, in his case at least - he lost the primary to Tony Strickland.
And that is why Maldonado insisted on an open primary in return for voting for the budget.
Yeah, that's right. Republicans are so racist and hate Latinos so much that they will vote for an Anglo Democrat over a Latino Republican. And that is why Abel Maldonado had to push for an open primary--because his heritage would never allow him to win a Republican primary, which would mean the end of his career.
Of course, this is Orange County, the traditional conservative bastion of lies and corruption. As a prominent Democratic activist in Orange County wrote to me just recently:
America's Sheriff from OC now a convicted felon. America's Pastor Rick Warren hails from Orange County. We watched what happened when OC's Chris Cox was America's Regulator.
We've got the watermelon man in Los Al, John Yoo fleeing to Chapman Law like a Nazi to Argentina, and now we get blamed for the frigging budget.
We're like the Rodney Dangerfield of California's counties.
But it doesn't change the fact that even Republicans realize that their own party is really just that racist. No wonder they want Obama to fail. His success would challenge deeply held assumptions. And I'm not talking about conservatism.