Abel Maldonado dividing point among Republicans
June 28, 2012
OPINION By STEVE BARTOWSKI
The Republican Party has a long history of bloodying each other in heated contests and coming together supporting its nominees. In the days before Proposition 14 created the “top-two” primary system, party voters would determine the their party’s nominee during their partisan primaries, and the party organizations would then fall into line to support those winning nominees.
That process is now more complicated and controversial post-Prop 14. Now the County Central Committees and State Party have to make endorsements ahead of the voters to try and avoid splitting the vote in the primary. Normally, the candidates with incumbency, experience, name recognition, and capital are locks for these endorsements, but not so for former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, author of Prop 14, who has become a political lightning rod in the endorsement process he helped create.
During the early parts of the primary, Maldonado became a darling of the National Republican Congressional Committee and nationally popularized Republican Congressmen Darrell Issa and Kevin McCarthy, who viewed Abel’s name recognition and large fundraising war chest as the best opportunity to take a trophy seat from long-time liberal Democrat Lois Capps.
However, Maldonado is all but universally reviled the closer he gets to his own district, especially amongst conservative voters, where his tie-breaking budget vote as State Senator ushered in the largest tax increase in California history, and his positions on oil drilling, the DREAM Act, and the 2nd Amendment rights put him at odds with large swaths of his own partisan constituents.
Until his run for Congress and even up through the primary, Maldonado was cool to even receiving his own party’s support, declaring “I’m not looking for the endorsement of any small political groups that are out there, I’m looking for the endorsement of the people of the 24th Congressional District.” Maldonado even went as to rally behind New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg in his campaign for a “No Labels Party”, and drafted Proposition 14 intentionally in hopes of muting partisan politics and ushering in a new era of moderate politicians. It was a move that drew the ire of the California Republican Party, which unsuccessfully fought Prop 14 during the 2010 election.
Hard feelings remained after, where party leaders viewed the new law as a slap in the face to Republican voters and a further weakening of CRP’s ability to organize for elections.
In a move expressing that disdain, the central committee of the Santa Barbara County Republican Party in March made a surprising move forgoing Maldonado’s stronger branding and fundraising, and publicly endorsed Abel’s conservative Republican challenger Christopher Mitchum.
The committees in charge of San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties also leaned against Maldonado despite lacking the votes necessary to endorse either candidate. The move created waves within the Republican Party, where the NRCC was forced to pull their initial endorsement of Maldonado, and CRP decided to sit on the fence while their two Republican nominees fought it out alone for the top spot in June.
However, when Abel still bested his conservative rival in the primary, Republicans were left with only one challenger to go up against Capps. After a primary where only one Republican remains, endorsements are usually little more than a rubber-stamping formality.
But at the June meeting of the Santa Barbara County Republican Central Committee this week, a firestorm erupted over the Maldonado endorsement. Abel and supporters demanded party unity going into a tight election, and scolded holdouts as being poor losers or supporters of Capps. Those holdouts came from conservative members, many affiliated with the Tea Party and Liberty Movement, who argued Maldonado’s history and policies stood too far apart from Republican Party principles to allow conscionable support.
After an hour of heated and aggressive debate and numerous chaotic parliamentary motions and votes, Maldonado sat stunned as the final votes were tallied and he fell well short of those necessary to gain the endorsement of his own local party. To make matters more embarrassing for the Maldonado campaign, in a power move by Abel supporters backfired when they attempted to coerce dissenters into support through a bundled endorsement vote of Maldonado combined with Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Senate candidate Elizabeth Emken. But opposition to Maldonado remained adamantly opposed, and the move cost the other candidates their endorsements as well.
Supporters of Maldonado were outraged and planned a re-vote for the following meeting in July. There are now threats of discipline, potentially removal from the board, for members who dissented. Sources close to the Maldonado campaign say he plans to meet some of these members directly to try and sway their votes. Pressure will be further piled on opponents as Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and outgoing Senator Sam Blakeslee are rumored to be planning on attending to voice their support for Maldonado and Party Unity as well, or at the least influence the outcome directly by their votes as ex-officios.
There is upset within the Tea Party movement as well, where members view the Capps versus Maldonado showdown as a lose-lose scenario. Both rival Christopher Mitchum and 2010 Capps challenger Tom Watson are also withholding their endorsement of Maldonado. At the July meeting, Maldonado may win his Central Committee’s endorsement, but no matter the outcome, the vote reflects an enormous divide Maldonado has to overcome within his own base before he can even think about taking on Democrats this November.
Steve Bartowski lives in Orcutt.