Bass: Perez is Next Speaker

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The 68th Speaker of the California Assembly has been chosen by a majority of the chambers Democratic majority -- so says the 67th leader of the lower house, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

The new leader, says Bass, is Asssemblymember John Perez, a Democrat from Los Angeles. He could formally win the job as soon as next week.

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Bass made it official, or seemingly so, in a discussion with Capitol reporters this afternoon. After a few days of intense private politicking, she says freshman legislator Perez has received more than enough commitments from Democrats in the Assembly to get the job.

(Perez, says his staff, isn't yet talking to the press.)

For those who need a quick tutorial on leadership elections, remember that it only takes a simple majority to win the top job. There are 80 members of the Assembly, which means a member becomes Speaker after winning 41 votes. But because there are 50 Democrats in the Assembly (plus an independent who used to be a Dem), then the majority caucus dictates who gets to lead the entire house; in other words, a majority of the majority --26 of the 50 Dems -- get to make the choice. Follow that?

As has been reported over the last few days, Perez was prepping for a run for the Senate when cajoled by fellow Dems to instead seek the job of Speaker. And to get the leadership job, he had to beat out fellow Angeleno Dem Assemblymember Kevin DeLeon, who won the endorsement today of the Legislature's Latino Caucus.

Yes, this is the point where you're supposed to say wait a minute... is the next Speaker going to be Perez or DeLeon?

Bass says it's Perez. "Democracy prevailed," she said in regards to the Perez v. DeLeon battle, which has all played out behind closed doors.

DeLeon, however, might not be ready to concede the race. Assuming all of the Perez votes hold, that would mean DeLeon would have to persuade some Assembly Republicans to cast a vote for him in open session. Sure, such a thing has happened in the past... one memorable year, in particular. But in the current hyper-partisan environment, it's harder than ever to see any GOP assemblymembers crossing the Rubicon and voting for a liberal Democrat.

Perez, whose cousin is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would set another "first" in leadership history: by becoming the first openly gay leader of the California Legislature (or, we're still checking, any legislative body in the nation). He's also a Democrat with strong ties to organized labor, something Bass says is a positive.

"Lots of years of negotiation [experience]," said Bass. "You certainly need that in every aspect of this job." Of course, it also means he's a close ally of one of the Democratic Party's most important interest groups.

As for when Assemblymember Perez might officially become Speaker Perez... stay tuned. Speaker Bass said there will be a transition period, much in the same way Bass took over from former speaker Fabian Nunez in 2008.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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