Speaker #68 Takes The Gavel

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"I intend to lead as you expect me to: boldly, creatively, and decisively."

That's the pledge, and the promise of Assembly Speaker John Perez as he takes the helm leading the lower house of the California Legislature for what will be, elections willing, one of the longest tenures of Assembly speakers in the term limits era.

Perez's swearing-in ceremony as the 68th speaker was an elaborate and carefully choreographed event at midday, featuring everyone from the Gay Mens Chorus of Los Angeles to too many political VIPs to count.

In his speech, Perez steered a careful path, simultaneously vowing to be bipartisan while also fighting for core Democratic beliefs. On the bipartisan front, the new Speaker announced that two of the Assembly's 30 standing committees will soon be chaired by Republicans. In a post-ceremony press conference, Perez declined to name which committees would get new chairs.

(One bipartisan sidenote: Perez reminded everyone of his support for a GOP-led effort during last summer's IOU crisis to allow Californians to pay their state debts with any IOU they'd been given. What Perez didn't say: the measure died in the Senate.)

Perez also announced a ban on "texting" between assemblymembers and lobbyists during committee hearings and floor sessions (later he said that doesn't mean a ban on email use from BlackBerrys).

John Myers, KQED

Photo: John Myers, KQED

In his Q&A with Capitol reporters afterwards, the 40-year-old Democrat was earnest but non-specific about many of the issues over which he now assumes stewardship for the Assembly. On the subject of tax increases to help bridge the state's $20 billion budget gap, he both said "everything has to be on the table" but such increases have "very little chance" of being part of the process.

Perhaps his best 'I'm not showing you guys my cards' comments today came on the subject of the fate of lieutenant governor nominee Abel Maldonado, whose selection by Governor Schwarzenegger remains in limbo. I asked Perez what he meant in his published quote that he's given Maldo some advice that "increases" the chance the Republican will be confirmed.

"He's got to go find his 41 votes," said the Speaker about Maldonado's need for approval by a majority of the Assembly. "I've given him some advice on how he could be more effective at finding his 41 votes. I'm not going to find them for him. But I'm open to being there if we can get there together."

Perez stressed that he doesn't want the pending nomination to be a "distraction" from the Assembly's most important work, but admitted that the Maldo Limbo could last all the way until the drop dead date in mid-May.

Of course, the most interesting part of the Perez story may be what his ascension to the top post in the Assembly means for the long term. Perez is not the first freshman chosen to lead the Assembly, but this is the first time in the term limits era that both chambers appear to be in steady hands for years to come (Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is not termed out until 2014). That means regardless of who becomes the next governor, there's likely going to be a major power structure -- and institutional memory -- in the Democratically controlled Legislature unlike any we've seen for a long time.

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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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