Santa Maria strawberry grower and California’s former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado was passed over by President-elect Donald Trump to be Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture despite vigorous lobbying by Hispanic business organizations and a letter of endorsement by Santa Barbara County Supervisor Peter Adam. Instead, Trump selected former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue — a Georgia agribusiness owner and a strong proponent of expanded trade — to head the Department of Agriculture, a federal agency with a $150 billion budget. Maldonado — a moderate republican who challenged Democratic incumbent Lois Capps in 2012 — reportedly met with Trump for a two-hour interview.
Although many Hispanic business and Latino rights organizations have loudly bemoaned the lack of any Latino in the President-elect’s new cabinet, Maldonado took pains to thank Trump for the opportunity and praised the review process as “honorable, thorough, and transparent.” He also stated, “America can be rest assured that the USDA will be in good hands with Governor Perdue.”
According to Politico, Trump’s decision to bypass Maldonado prompted California’s former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — and Trump’s successor on the reality show “The Apprentice” — to object. Trump’s decision, complained Schwarzenegger, “obviously…wasn’t based on substance.” Schwarzenegger and Maldonado were unusually close allies for a governor and lieutenant governor.
On January 17, shortly before Perdue’s appointment was announced, Maldonado tweeted a photo showing a bottle of Trump sparkling wine accompanied by a champagne flute. “Enjoying a beautiful bottle of Trump Sparking Wine,” Maldonado tweeted. He also sent out video of his room in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago hotel. “What a beautiful elegant hotel,” he exclaimed.
Such blandishments aside, Maldonado’s path to the top was littered with banana peels. As a State Senator and Lt. Governor, Maldonado was a party maverick, breaking with right wing Republicans to help Democrats enact an extremely controversial tax increase in 2009. In exchange, Maldonado got a ballot initiative that ultimately ushered in the state’s open primary system that sends the top two vote-getters to the run-off no matter what their party affiliation.
In theory, the reform was designed to ideologically de-fang California’s primary elections. Candidates for statewide office, the thinking went, had to kowtow to the activist and extremist fringe in order to get elected. Despite this accomplishment — or perhaps because of it — Maldonado found himself despised by mainstream Republicans and equally distrusted by mainstream Democrats. Nor did it help that his successful strawberry farming operation was the target of IRS enforcement actions for hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of unpaid taxes.
Last summer, as the Trump juggernaut was just getting off the ground, Maldonado was one of many prominent California Hispanic business leaders to denounce Trump’s remarks describing many Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”
Maldonado got a last-minute plug from Santa Barbara County Supervisor Peter Adam, himself the operator of a five-generation farming enterprise with 4,500 acres of crops under cultivation by 400 employees. “Abel Maldonado’s father worked his way up through our farm and created the success that started his children, one of whom is being considered for Secretary of Agriculture, today,” Adam wrote. “I learned a lot from Mr. Maldonado Sr. I think Abel Jr. would be a great pick.”
Adam, an outspoken conservative and the only supervisor to support Trump, included the endorsement of Maldonado as an afterthought to a letter of congratulations he’d already begun writing to the president-elect. In it, Adam spends much time criticizing the relationship between California state government and the federal government. “Frankly, we have been conducting ourselves like children for decades,” he wrote. “Such conduct has been enabled by the federal government and it has to stop.”
Adam claimed 34 percent of America’s welfare recipients live in California even though California only has 12 percent of the population. “These are staggering statistics, given the fact that California is a large agricultural state where much of the labor is ‘unskilled’ or ‘menial’ — meaning they are on the low end of the pay scale,” he wrote. “This does not mean that it’s not honest and necessary work that can lead to the ultimate improvement of people’s lives. Yet somehow, these jobs have been demonized.”
As a result, Adam complained, growers have had to import foreign workers to do the jobs that Americans (on welfare) won’t do. Efforts to provide housing for these workers, Adam added, elicit opposition from environmental activists intent on “preserving our environment” and preventing change to “our ‘view-shed.’”
California, Adam objected, has failed to develop a sustainable system of government, adding, “We suffer greatly in many ways under the rules imposed by these idiots.” Adam encouraged Trump to take steps “in California that point out the folly of our state strategy and wake California citizens from their stupor.”
Adam assured Trump that he enjoyed significant support from many Californians despite election results overwhelmingly favorable to Democrat Hilary Clinton. “You are the only politician who has the balls (yes, I said it) to cause us to re-examine what we are doing.” By that Adam — who is out of the country on a tour of agricultural operations in Chile — said he meant that California politicians are so eager to curry favor from unions and environmentalists that they’re willing to stick future generations with the bill.