Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Updated: CA Dems choose gay man for next speaker

02_09_Perez_50_LRG As expected, the Democrats in the California Assembly have elected John Perez (pictured at left) to be the next speaker of the statehouse’s lower body. It is the first time an openly gay lawmaker has held the post.

The decision is expected to be finalized during a floor vote in the Assembly in January.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the Democratic Caucus unanimously voted for Perez during a closed-door meeting at the historic Stanford Mansion. Because the Dems hold a majority of seats in the Assembly, and do not need Republican votes, the caucus’ decision assures Perez will become the state’s 68th Speaker next year.

The Courage Campaign said it was “delighted” with the decision in a statement sent out shortly after the news broke.

“They’ve chosen a true progressive who will lead our state during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We’re proud that he’s the first openly gay leader of a legislature in U.S. history and we’re looking forward to working closely with Assemblymember Perez to help build a more progressive California,” stated Rick Jacobs, the group’s executive director.

Current speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) is termed out of office in 2010 and had backed the freshman lawmaker Perez, also of Los Angeles, as her replacement. Today’s decision caps two weeks of unusually public debate over the leadership position, which had pitted Perez against another Los Angeles Assemblyman, Kevin de Leon.

De Leon had been in line to be the next speaker, but after he failed to round up the necessary votes to secure the post, Perez entered the race and quickly seized enough backing from his colleagues to make way for today’s decision.

In a statement, Perez said he was humbled by the decision and pledged to unite his party following the divisive fight.

“It is a humbling privilege. I will work every day to justify that faith and to earn the enormous honor of having been drafted to serve as Speaker. The other candidates for Speaker, especially Assemblymember Kevin de León, have all shown great leadership for the Assembly and for this state and they have my great respect,” stated Perez. “As Speaker, I will look forward to working with a united Democratic caucus as we continue tackling our number one priority—helping the state recover from the recession and helping the California families who have been hit so hard by it.”

In a sign that Democratic leaders are trying to move beyond any animosity caused by the leadership fight, de Leon nominated Perez to be the next speaker and called him his “friend” in a release following the vote.

“I did so deeply thankful for the strong support and encouragement I have received from members of our caucus, and also mindful of the example of one of the great inspirations of my life and many others–Rosa Parks.  Mrs. Parks showed us you didn’t have to have a particular office or title to effect great change,” stated de Leon. “I am proud to be a member of the California State Assembly and I will continue working hard, with my colleagues and with Speaker Pérez, to bring about real change for the people of my district and all the people of California.”

As he still has five  years left in the Assembly before term limits will require him to seek another public office, Perez and his backers had argued he would bring stability and some longevity to the speakership.

It is also the second time Assembly Dems have made an historic pick to lead the Statehouse’s lower body. When they elected Bass speaker last year, she became the first African American woman to hold the post. Bass issued a statement today saying she once again is “proud” of her legislative colleagues.

“First by the high caliber of the Speaker candidates we had, especially the final two, John Pérez and Kevin de León, and second by the strength our caucus has shown in coming together and uniting behind one of those candidates, the next Speaker of the Assembly, John Pérez,” stated Bass.  “Under his leadership and the continued leadership of Assemblymember De León and his supporters I look forward to another year of being made proud by my colleagues as we work to improve the quality of life for the people of California.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, December 10, 2009 @ 3:11 pm PST
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