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Party on, trend-bucker 

Da-dum-da-dum. Da-dee-da-dum.

It's hard to write music. That string of syllables, for those of you with an untrained ear, is the wedding march.

That tune's been stuck in my head because I've been thinking: A great deal of what happens in politics comes about as a result of a marriage of personal conscience and political convenience. It's a beautiful thing to behold. There's cake. Everybody throws rice. I'm getting all teary-eyed just thinking about it.

But you know, I think true cynics have it wrong when they talk about how politicians are just craven reactionaries or opportunistic ladder climbers. I'm building up steam to jot down some thoughts on Abel Maldonado's recent party-bucking budget moves, but give me a second. The water's not yet to a boil.

It's not easy being a politician in party politics particularly legislatures. Constituents, when asked for some bizarre reason, say that they expect their representatives to act according to what they believe is best for the district and the state. That's the broadest interest, in other words.

But party leaders first and foremost expect consistent loyalty to the party that's why it's called a "party," after all and they control most of the means of advancement, from party nominations to political cash. "You want some of these bucks?" they say, waving around wads of dollars. "Get in the party line."

There aren't many jobs where we're expected to always act consistently on our own beliefs. Most of us are allowed a sort of leniency of conscience, which I certainly appreciate. Attorneys can say to themselves, ethically, that although they may not personally agree that a certain course of action is the best for society, they must take it because it's the best for their client. On a lesser scale, most jobs have similar examples of situational ethics. If they run amok, these things for lack of a better word are viewed as snarky and cynical.

But politicians do have one of those jobs. We expect a purity of actions and are disappointed when we don't get it. Or at least I do. And am.

Getting back to the man of the hour, I don't know what drove Abel to break ranks with his party over the stalled state budget, but he did. He turned his back on his elephantine brethren and gave the holdup a thumbs down. Republican leaders made rapid and very public statements warning that he could pay the political price for his action.

I'd be watching my back, if I were Abel. And my kneecaps. Kneecaps are especially vulnerable.

But maybe he won't suffer the indomitable wrath of the Republicans after all.

Seriously. The subject that party leaders understand above all else is political calculus. They're all required to take it, right after they pass political trigonometry and political geometry. It's usually scheduled right after political home ec and before political lunch.

Sometimes, those same, well-schooled party leaders even give the secret thumbs-up sign to certain members to go ahead and buck their fellow partygoers. They do this because they know the leaning of the district, and they know what a politician needs to do in order to get reelected or to advance up the ladder.

Did this happen in Abel's case? Maybe, maybe not. I'm no political expert, and I certainly don't have a paranormal psychic connection with Republican party bigwigs that would let me read their innermost thoughts yet.

Still, I do know that Maldonado is up for reelection next year, and his move is likely to help not hurt his chances in the centrist district. If that's true, was his a gutsy decision or a self-interested one? Probably both. There will be consequences for the homegrown hero, sure, but there are also potential rewards. And no, the prospect of nibbling that dangling carrot doesn't make his act a craven publicity stunt. It simply means that an act of conscience may also have its upside. How's that for a rarity?

Face it. We like our mavericks, but we also like to think they're copping their in-your-face attitude for the good of the good, without expectation of reward.

Of course, rewards that come about through a sort of convoluted "don't scratch our backs this time, but don't worry because your back will still ultimately get scratched in the long run" tend to raise less ire than more obvious benefits, like, say, sacks of gold nuggets dropped directly into pockets.

Most reassuringly for Abel, at least is how his good buddy Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't blast him for slapping the party in the face. In fact, the senator with the mile-wide smile seems to be the only GOP lawmaker to not earn a tongue-lashing from Mr. California. I guess, for some bizarrely unfathomable reason, Arnold actually wants to the budget to, you know, pass. Or something.

I'm sure that all of this has Abel breathing a sigh of relief, at least privately. After all, it was only about a year ago that he said something about how Arnold Schwarzenegger only cares about Arnold Schwarzenegger. I recall hearing about a cold shoulder or two between the two.

Such sentiments, however, seem to be water under the political bridge. Or, in this case, ladder.

Nobody can predict the future. Not really. But to venture a guess, I'd say that Abel isn't done with his climb. And this party-bucking isn't going to seriously hurt him in the long run.

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