Hours after Sen. Abel Maldonado officially became California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the election to fill his now-vacant Assembly seat will be held in an August special ballot.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) called the decision a “bonehead move” that will cost the counties that make up District 15—Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo—up to $2.5 million. But the real problem seems to be that the late summer timing puts a Democratic candidate at a serious disadvantage. The Dems had hoped to see the vote consolidated with the November general election.
The district, which scoops up some of the wealthier, more conservative areas at its southern end, has a very liberal northern region in San Jose and Santa Cruz, where Former Assembly member John Laird resides. Laird had announced his intention to run for the seat and wrest the district from his expected Republican challenger Assembly minority leader Sam Blakeslee. However, after Maldonado’s confirmation was initially tripped up in February, Laird conceded that he will do much better in a general election rather than a late-summer run-off. The original timing of Maldonado’s confirmation would have put him in a June general election.
“I’m not thrilled about running in an August election,” Laird said. “June and November are high turnouts. August is an election when everybody is on vacation, nobody is paying attention.” Laird said his own polling showed he can just beat Blakeslee—but the Governor’s decision will place that slim margin of victory in jeopardy.
That said, money is still an issue for counties already grappling with empty coffers—as KQED’s Sacramento bureau chief John Myers tweeted this afternoon: “Overlooked in Dems v. Arnold debate over special elex costs 2 replace #Maldo: CA counties still owed $68.2 mil for May ‘09 special elex.”