California politics experienced a shock when several Democratic members of the state legislature threw their support behind Republican Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is the Democratic Party favorite.
One of those former legislators, Stanford Public Policy professor Joe Nation, shared his thoughts with the Review both on the lieutenant governor’s race and on California politics in general.
Of Maldonado, Nation said, “I served with Abel for four years in the assembly, and it is a remarkably dysfunctional place, and I think what’s needed most in Sacramento are people who are willing to stand up against their parties when they need to…. Abel has demonstrated time and time again that he will do that.”
Nation said that he admired Maldonado’s commitment to bipartisanship. During his time as an assemblyman, Maldonado voted approximately 250 times out of 700 against his own party, “an astounding number,” remarked Nation, especially in times when party loyalty reigns supreme.
“I think we desperately need independent voices in Sacramento,” said Nation. “The Democratic and Republican parties have helped get us into this mess… where we have extreme views on both sides, and there’s very little opportunity to work collaboratively.”
Nation suggested that it was not only important to be willing to oppose one’s own party, but to be a leader in doing so. Maldonado, according to Nation, “has taken steps that some people would consider to be political suicide.” He was appointed lieutenant governor this past April in part because of his integrity.
“As a Democrat, I don’t think I’ve ever endorsed a Republican in a race before,” commented Nation. “I don’t agree with him on every issue…but, in terms of integrity, there’s no one I can think of who is better than he.”
Nation’s focus on bipartisanship is not reflective of California politics as a whole. Nation recalled when he was part of the bipartisan group that set out to solve California’s budget issues. “The group actually had to meet offsite, away from the capital,” he said. “We couldn’t tell people about it because we’d be punished by our leadership for sitting down and talking to [people of the opposite party]….”
Nation remarked that the notion of absolute party loyalty in lieu of effective compromise is common in the legislature, and that these attitudes lead to the sort of gridlock and inefficacy that plagues California today. As a result, it is important to support candidates who don’t follow that mantra.
Mayor Newsom originally announced that he would run for governor, not lieutenant governor, claiming that he did not even know what the lieutenant governor did. Indeed, the current Lieutenant Governor race may seem unimportant in comparison to some of the more televised races, such as Brown vs. Whitman and Boxer vs. Fiorina.
However, Nation explained why this race is important. “The one thing that Lieutenant Governors do is sit on just about every board you can imagine, so if you have someone who is motivated and energetic, he or she can make a big difference,” he said. Nation hopes that a moderate such as Maldonado will encourage collaboration and bipartisanship in a place where neither seems to exist.
One could certainly argue that the optimistic hopes of Nation and his colleagues for a better legislature may be in vain. “The rules of the game, the way we run elections, the way we run Sacramento, the constraints that are there, the initiative process—all this stuff put together—leads me to the conclusion that [the problem] can’t be fixed internally,” said Nation. “It has to be fixed from the outside…people on the street and across the state who finally say ‘We’ve had enough.’”