John A. Pérez: Poised to make history
Published Thursday, 10-Dec-2009 in issue 1146
Democrats in the California Assembly have been negotiating feverishly in the last few days over the push for the next speaker – and some members say a selection could be a close call. We tip our hat to Junior Assembly member John A. Pérez, who is poised and said to soon make history in Sacramento as the next State Assembly Speaker.
Pérez, who won election to the Assembly in 2008, would be the first openly gay lawmaker to hold the post, one of the most powerful positions in state government.
According to current Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who held a surprising news conference to toss her support behind Pérez, the Los Angeles Democrat has lined up enough support to become the next speaker of the California Assembly.
Bass told reporters last Wednesday at the state Capitol that the majority of the Assembly’s 50 Democrats back Pérez for the job.
If this proves to be the case, Pérez has four more years in the Assembly, so it will be an opportunity for there to be stability, according to Bass, who has led the chamber since May 2008 and will be termed out next year. She praised Pérez for giving up a chance to run for the state Senate, where he could serve for eight years, to lead the Assembly.
Still, despite Bass throwing her support behind Pérez, the internal fight for the top post is ongoing. At least 41 votes in the 80-member Assembly are needed to elect a new speaker. The candidate with the most Democratic support usually wins.
Pérez’s rival for the job is fellow Los Angeles Democrat Assemblymember Kevin de Léon, whose supporters have suggested Pérez is assuming victory too early.
And while both men, Latinos from Los Angeles, lead the pack to take over as speaker, insiders say that de Léon is putting up a tough fight – not playing by the “gentlemen’s agreement” usually seen in Sacramento. Despite the movement toward Pérez and Bass’ attempt to squash the struggle, de Léon contends he is still a candidate for the job insisting the race is too close to call.
And as things go in politics, it is a bit tangled, as de León is a close friend of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and Pérez holds the Assembly seat that Núñez once occupied.
Nonetheless, Pérez has the résumé one would expect of a modern speaker. He has long ties to labor, and is a former leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He is also the cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
While his election appears to be a “fait accomplis” to some, this is only the first of many battles Pérez has on a long road ahead. He also has some big shoes to fill. The role of Speaker is considered the second or third most powerful position in state politics, following the governor and the Senate president.
But Perez’s power will be limited. Since 1990, members of the Assembly are limited to three, two-year terms. That makes it virtually impossible to wield the kind of power that earlier speakers enjoyed, such as Willie Brown, who some have suggested that Pérez might prove to imitate, noting Pérez’s ability to court and charm, negotiate and twist arms when necessary.
According to many of his colleagues, Pérez has the extraordinary intellectual vigor, combined with keen political and tactical instincts and years of experience as an organizer and negotiator. When you combine those assets with the fine taste of a gay man, you have the perfect guy to be our nation’s first openly gay legislative speaker.
All of that aside, Pérez was drafted because his colleagues think that in this time of economic crisis – California faces at least a $21.7 billion deficit – Pérez is not only qualified for the job, he will be an effective leader.
We agree with those who say that if Pérez ascends to the speakership, young people in our community, especially those of color, will have an incredible role model; young adults will have a fearless champion they can count on to stand up for what’s right.
It will indeed be a victory for communities of color and especially the GLBT community.

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