Here’s a reminder for the seven Assembly members who didn’t bother to cast a vote Thursday on GOP state Sen. Abel Maldonado’s nomination as lieutenant governor:

The green button on your desk is for “aye” and the red button is for “nay.” But you’ve got to pick one of them. There’s no button in the middle for “both ways.”

The final tally was 35 Assembly members in favor of the nomination and 37 opposed. Since the “no” votes were a plurality, Democrats argue that Maldonado loses and the LG’s office stays vacant.

Not so fast, says GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made the nomination in the first place. Since there weren’t 41 votes against Maldonado, his argument is that since the nomination wasn’t turned down by a majority of the Assembly, Maldonado is the new lieutenant governor.

Both sides have a point, which is great news for attorneys and bad news for the state, which will foot the bill for the inevitable court battle.

One thing’s sure, though. If the Assembly members who took a walk on the nomination vote had decided to do the job they were elected to do, which is make hard decisions, this long-running fight would be a lot closer to being settled.

Instead, they all decided to duck the vote and hope nobody noticed.

Voters elect legislators to do what’s best for the state, not what’s best for themselves. But it’s up to those elected officials to decide for themselves whether following that “best for the state” guideline means voting yea or nay on an issue, whether it’s a lieutenant governor nomination, the state budget or support for “National Fried Chicken Week.”

But in the end, a decision has to be made.

Democratic Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, for example, said Maldonado didn’t deserve to be lieutenant governor because of the self-serving deals he made with Senate Democrats in last year’s budget deal.

“I can tell you that Latino voters don’t just go for someone who has a vowel at the end of his name,” De La Torre was quoted as saying in the Sacramento Bee.

That’s a reasonable argument. But those strong feelings didn’t stop the South Gate Democrat from sitting on his hands and staring quietly at his shoes when it came time to vote on Maldonado’s nomination.

A trio of Latino assemblymen held a news conference Monday to say they were voting against Maldonado, not incidentally giving their fellow Democrats the cover they needed to cast a vote against a Republican who grew up as the child of migrant Mexican farm workers.

That wasn’t enough to convince De La Torre and three other Latino Democrats — Kevin de Leon, Edward Hernandez and Mary Salas — that they wanted to explain to voters in their districts why they voted against putting a Latino in a top state post. So they didn’t vote at all.

The move infuriated Republicans.

“Kevin de Leon was sitting right there at his desk and he didn’t cast a vote,” fumed Hector Barajas, a spokesman for state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, the GOP leader in the Senate. “You want to be a leader (of Assembly Democrats), show some leadership.”

GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, the man who would be senator, didn’t cover himself in glory either. He was the lone Republican to take a walk on the Maldonado vote.

For DeVore, the decision also was a political one. The blueprint for his longshot effort to win the GOP U.S. Senate primary is to become the poster boy for California conservatives and snag their votes in June. Right-leaning organizations like the California Republican Assembly and various anti-tax groups, whose support DeVore desperately needs, have been howling for Maldonado’s scalp for supporting the tax hikes in last year’s budget.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t do DeVore’s street cred with the rest of the party any good to be on record as the one Republican to join Assembly Democrats in cutting Maldonado off at the knees. So rather vote his conscience, the party line or a coin flip, DeVore decided not to vote at all.

Democrat Dave Jones was also present but not voting, while Democrat Wilma Carter was absent. Democrats cast all 37 votes against Maldonado’s nomination, while eight Democrats and independent Juan Arambula joined Republicans on the “yes” side.


UPDATE: Dave Jones wrote to report that he voted NO on both measures. See his comment below.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.