"An Incredibly Moving Experience"
That was the sentiment of John Perez of Los Angeles after Assembly Democrats unanimously chose him today to be the fifth Speaker of the Assembly in just the last nine years.
Perez, 40, emerged from a long private meeting of Assembly Democrats this afternoon arm in arm with the outgoing Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and his challenger for the top job, Assemblymember Kevin DeLeon. The selection of Perez is still unofficial in the eyes of the lower house; Bass said a vote on the Assembly floor will be taken in January. And with the full 50 member Democratic caucus behind him, that vote will only be a formality.
"In unity, we're not just talking about the election of a Speaker," said Perez, "but we're talking about taking California forward."
Perez's ascension to the top job comes after a long few weeks of intense behind-the-scenes campaigning and negotiations, and the mending of fences behind closed doors averted what many thought could be the first fight over a new Speaker on the Assembly floor in almost 15 years.
One part of the freshman leader-to-be's bio will get a lot of attention in the weeks to come: he's an openly gay man, thus becoming the first in California history to lead the Legislature. But Perez made it seem today as though it may be a storyline he accepts, but won't be promoting.
"It means that California is a place where everyone has a seat at the table," he said, "and it is a testament not to anything other than that spirit in this state."
"He's ready" for the job, said Bass. "He's had decades of experience serving in many leadership capacities." Most notably on his resume, though, are his years of working inside organized labor in southern California. Needless to say, that's the kind of red meat Republicans have come to savor in their tangles with Democrats in the Legislature. "The State Assembly will continue to be led by someone who thinks that taxes are too low, regulations are too lax, and that the way to stimulate growth in California is to redistribute wealth," opined GOP blogger Jon Fleischman this morning.
The only remaining political intrigue may be what happens to the plans of another prominent Latino Angeleno pol, state Sen. Gil Cedillo. Cedillo is termed out of the upper house, but is eligible for one more two year term in the Assembly. His plan has been to run for the seat held by Perez, who was expected to in turn run for Cedillo's Senate seat. Cedillo has indicated he's not willing, yet at least, to go gently into that good night... suggesting he might even challenge the then Speaker Perez in the 46th district's Democratic primary next June.
Perez dismissed any drama today, simply saying: "Mr. Cedillo and I have a long relationship, we've known each other our entire lives... we'll be fine."