Abel Maldonado (left) with Brooks Firestone on election night of the June primary in 2012.
Paul Wellman

As usual, the road to national ruination runs right through the heart of Santa Barbara County. It’s become almost a law of nature. More specifically, if Democrats fail to flip the House this November and reclaim the majority, it will be the fault of one man from Santa Maria, Abel Maldonado, California’s former Republican lieutenant governor and longtime former assemblymember. Or at least, that’s the spin Democrats are putting on it. In some ways, that’s like blaming motor vehicles for all the car crashes caused by drunk drivers. But in other ways, they’re right.

For many years, Maldonado was that rare breed of cat: a genuinely Moderate Latino Republican. When Sacramento Democrats needed one Republican vote to pass the 2009 state budget, they turned to Maldonado, whom they then dismissed as a big old goofy grin wearing cowboy boots. Maldonado gave them the vote but skinned them alive later ​— ​along with the two-party system. In exchange for his vote, Maldonado got an initiative on the ballot the following year to replace the state’s two-party voting system with a new-and-improved reform-minded model: the top-two vote-getter system. California voters ​— ​always looking for quick fixes and things too good to be true ​— ​voted for it. Since then, the candidates coming in first and second in California primary elections square off against each other in the subsequent Novembers, no matter whether they are from the same or different parties. That was 10 years ago. From the start, Democrats and Republicans have despised the rule; the Dems have never been abel to figure it out.

In a handful of key California congressional races that Democrats absolutely must take from highly vulnerable Republicans if they want the House, there’s been a stampede of Democratic candidates. In Orange County, Republican mossback Dana Rohrabacher should by all rights be a sitting duck; he’s a right-wing, pro-Putin stooge who just alienated the entire real estate lobby by insisting that would-be home sellers have an inalienable right to discriminate against would-be home buyers if they happen to be gay. Going up against Rohrabacher is just one other Republican ​— ​Scott “Big Shoes” Baugh ​— ​and a horde of eight no-name Democrats whose own mothers couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup.

Barring divine intervention, it could be a showdown between Rohrabacher and Baugh in November. Little wonder Democrats are yanking out their hair and blaming Maldonado. Dems need to pick up 23 House seats in November to win the majority. Of those, about seven are in California, and of those, as many as four could fall in the “Blame Abel” category.

In this light, I take dim pleasure in the bursting campaign war chest of our incumbent first-term Democratic congressmember, Salud Carbajal. According to the most recent campaign statements, Carbajal has about $1.4 million more than his closest rival, Republican Justin Fareed, who is now making his third and perhaps final unsuccessful bid for public office. Fareed has just been instructed he should smile more. Based on the results, manifest in the two televised debates, I’d say this was bad advice. When Fareed smiles, the results are scary. And not in a good way.

But because Morro Bay Republican Michael Erin Woody jumped into the race, there’s automatically going to be a runoff. Right now, Carbajal doesn’t need the money. He should have given it away to Democrats running in key swing districts crucial to flipping the House. When Carbajal faces off against Fareed in November, he won’t need it then either.

Fareed is still yammering about the “single-

subject rule,” an issue of interest only to those who keep Robert’s Rules of Order on their bedside tables. To the extent there’s any campaign controversy, it’s why Fareed, who identifies himself in campaign ads as a “third-generation rancher,” has failed to list the family ranch ​— ​located in Kern County ​— ​or any income derived from it in federally mandated campaign finance disclosure forms. The expression “All hat, no cattle” springs immediately, if unkindly, to mind. That might be unfair. I’m sure Fareed has put in time at the family ranch ​— ​which he “maintains a devotion to overseeing,” according to campaign materials. But according to Fareed’s attorney, Republican Party Hit Man Chuck Bell, the ranch is not a moneymaking operation, and there’s no income to be derived. I can relate to Fareed more than I’d care to admit. I myself “maintain a devotion to overseeing” the writing of the Great American Novel. I just haven’t gotten around to writing it yet.

In the meantime, the ever-congenial Carbajal continues to harass, dun, extort, and stalk campaign donors to make sure they’ve given the very last drop allowed under federal campaign law. He’s relentless. I’ve seen the bruises. I’ve seen the emergency room receipts. I’ve seen the restraining orders.

It’s okay to ask people to give until it hurts. But make sure the money derived is spent where it helps.

The good news is whatever happens, we can always blame Abel Maldonado.


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