UPDATED 12:58 p.m. with reaction from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and at 2:25 p.m. with reaction from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez
In a move that isn't making Democrats happy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't plan to consolidate the special election to fill GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado's Senate seat with the November general election.
"The governor believes it's his responsibility to fill this as quickly as possible and have a full complement of legislators for the budget talks and also for key pieces of legislation," spokesman Aaron McLear said today.
Maldonado plans to resign his seat this afternoon, after he is sworn in as lieutenant governor. Schwarzenegger will then have 14 days to call a special election to fill the seat, meaning a run-off election would likely take place at the end of August or beginning of September.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg characterized the decision not to consolidate the special election with the general election as a "bonehead move."
"It's irresponsible to cost the taxpayers $2.5 million when you can consolidate an election to November," Steinberg said at a question-and-answer session today with the media to discuss numerous state issues.
Steinberg said he has had a "spirited" discussion with Schwarzenegger about the issue, but declined to elaborate, saying only that "spirited is spirited is spirited -- I'm obviously not happy about this."
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez echoed the Sacramento Democrat's displeasure with Schwarzenegger's move.
"This decision, which breaks with years of precedent, was clearly motivated by petty, partisan politics," Pérez said in a statement, "and it's unconscionable to me that he wants to waste millions of taxpayer dollars that could go to public safety, balancing the budget or job creation."
Steinberg speculated that the proposal not to consolidate elections "obviously comes from somebody in his political shop who is trying to pull another one over on the Democrats, a moment of leverage taken, I'm not sure for what."
Steinberg suggested the Republican governor's move could affect their camaraderie.
If Schwarzenegger wanted to slap the Assembly for waiting months before confirming Maldonado last week, an appointment that prompted the need for the special election, then the governor should have targeted a future Assembly special election, Steinberg said.
The Senate confirmed the nomination of Maldonado quickly in February while the Assembly initially rejected the nomination.
"We did the right thing, so it's not cool," Steinberg said.
Filling Maldonado's seat in the 15th Senate District became a key consideration for lawmakers during the five-month confirmation saga, especially Democrats fighting to pick up that seat this cycle. Because the Legislature waited until last week to confirm Maldonado, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had the option of combining the special run-off election to fill the seat with the November election. That option was preferable to the majority Democrats, who believe higher turnout would increase their chances of a win.
But McLear said the governor felt he had to fill the seat as soon as possible with the budget battle looming.
"This particular seat has been a critical seat in getting things passed, getting things done," McLear said, citing Maldonado's vote for last February's budget package. "It's tough to argue (with) the fact that a lot of things that happen in this building come down to one vote upstairs. So to not have that vote available would be irresponsible."
Legislators sought a similar consolidation strategy during Maldonado's first go-round as lieutenant governor nominee, aiming for a confirmation vote date that would allow Schwarzenegger to combine the special election with the June primary.
Consolidating one of two elections that will likely be needed to fill the seat with existing contests would save the state money. But McLear blamed the Assembly, which failed to confirm Maldonado during that February vote, for fouling up that cost-saving option.
"The Legislature consciously delayed this for five months and avoided the possibility of consolidating with the June primary," he said. "Because of that, it's going to cost taxpayer dollars."
GOP Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and former Democratic Assemblyman John Laird are both expected to run for the seat.
Sacramento Bee colleague Jim Sanders and Fresno Bee colleague E.J. Schultz contributed to this report.