Freshman Los Angeles Democrat to be sworn in as Assembly Speaker

Los Angeles Democrat John A. Perez will be sworn in Monday as Assembly speaker, pledging to address "the serious structural issues putting a stranglehold on California government'' and the economy.

The 40-year-old former labor union official, a cousin of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dropped plans to run for the state Senate and was picked by fellow Assembly Democrats Dec. 10 and officially elected Jan. 7 to succeed Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, as speaker.

"I am grateful and humbled by the confidence of my colleagues who have asked me to shoulder the awesome responsibilities of helping guide California through these stormy times,'' Perez said after the Dec. 10 vote.

"My first, last and only consideration is to serve the people of California as we address the critical financial and structural issues facing our state.''

Bass is in her final year in the Assembly because of term limits and is heavily favored to be elected to the House seat held by Rep. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles. Speakers are customarily replaced in their final year in the Assembly. Bass helped recruit Perez to be her successor.

One factor in Perez's victory over Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, as speaker was the Perez can remain in the Assembly until 2014, while de Leon will be forced to leave in 2012 because of term limits.

Perez said "the budget is going to be the major priority for this year,'' but "we can't solve the budget crisis without addressing the serious structural issues putting a stranglehold on California government.''

One change Perez supports is ending the two-thirds requirement for approving a state budget.

"The reality is that in a state like California, we need to have transparency in government,'' Perez said.

Ironically, changing the two-thirds rule would require a vote by two-thirds of each house of the Legislature, then approval by the public.

Although changing the two-thirds rule would be "a cornerstone of core reform, I think we have to look much broader than that in figuring out ways to achieve broader transparency.''

When Perez won the post Dec. 10, Villaraigosa, the speaker from 1998-2000, said, "Known for his integrity, intelligence and consensus building skills, John Perez is simply the right person to lead California out of this recession and help start putting families back to work.''

Perez will be California's first openly gay speaker.

"John's election marks an important milestone in the history of California and our nation,'' said Villaraigosa, whose mother was the sister of Perez's mother.

Villaraigosa is scheduled to attend Monday's ceremony in the Assembly chamber at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Perez was a labor official for 15 years. He spent the seven years before being elected to the Assembly handling political matters for the Orange County office of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents supermarket workers.

"A good deal of my adult life has been engaged in fighting to create the best quality jobs we could get for the people of California,'' Perez said.

"The way that you do that is creating an environment where both business and workers can thrive. It's got to be a relationship where both are able to succeed.

Perez served on the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles Board of Commissioners from 2006-08, resigning to run for the Assembly.

Born Sept. 28, 1969, Perez was raised in El Sereno and Highland Park. He became politically active when he was 14, on such issues as funding for community health clinics, immigration, reapportionment and land use.

Perez was elected in 2008 to represent the 46th Assembly District, which includes Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, Westlake, Vernon and part of South Los Angeles.

Perez is also an elected member of the Democratic National Committee. He has served as a board member for the California League of Conservation Voters, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Latino Coalition against AIDS, the California Center for Regional Leadership, and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.