February 11, 2010 | 4:15 pm

What was supposed to be a relatively quick debate over the confirmation of the appointment of Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) as lieutenant governor turned into a drawn-out, five-hour affair that could wind up being decided in the courts.

In the end, the Assembly failed to confirm Maldonado’s nomination. He received 37 votes in favor of his confirmation and 35 votes against confirmation. All but one of the Assembly’s Republican members voted for his promotion. Only eight members of the 49-member Democratic caucus voted to support Maldonado. The Assembly’s only independent member, Juan Arambula of Fresno, also voted in support of confirmation.

But it may not be over. In the end, the courts may be asked to decide what the definition of rejection is. At issue is whether Maldonado’s nomination had to be rejected by a majority of the Assembly’s 80 members, as the administration maintains. The Assembly leadership says Maldonado’s confirmation was rejected simply because he failed to receive 41 votes in the Assembly.

The events of the day highlighted partisan differences that continue to engulf Sacramento politics, and operational differences between the two legislative houses. Earlier in the day, the Senate confirmed Maldonado on a 27-6 vote, with some of those no votes coming from conservative Republicans. In the Senate, liberal lawmakers like Sens. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) spoke of comity and bipartisan cooperation. In the Assembly, both Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and Speaker-elect John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) voted against Maldonado.

The Assembly’s lone independent, Arambula, (I-Fresno), voted in favor of Maldonado’s confirmation. “If we reject this nomination, we will be perceived, rightfully so I believe, as putting partisanship above the interests of the state.”

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