LA Democrat John Perez sworn in as Assembly speaker

California Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-LA)
California Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-LA)
Julie Small/KPCC

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California has a new speaker of the Assembly. John Perez was sworn in Monday amid much pomp and circumstance at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

The L.A. Democrat faces the same problem that bedeviled his recent predecessors - a multi-billion dollar deficit that has to be closed by July.

The crowd in the Assembly chambers clapped and shouted as John Perez (D-LA) entered to take up the post as the next speaker of the Assembly. As he took the oath of office, some of his powerful predecessors watched – among them, Willie Brown, Fabian Nunez and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – who’s also John Perez’s uncle.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles roused the crowd to its feet with a rendition of “A Brand New Day” from the Broadway musical “The Wiz.”

And it is “a brand new day” in the state capitol in some respects. John Perez is the first openly gay speaker of the California Assembly.

Democrats expect him to be a more powerful budget negotiator than his predecessor Karen Bass because of his strong labor and business ties.

Perez pledged to make the budget process more public and not to clinch deals in private “Big 5” sessions with the governor and other legislative leaders.

"The budget will not be written behind closed doors in 'Big 5' meetings," Perez promised.

But in many ways, it is not a brand new day in the Capitol. Outside the Assembly chambers, hundreds of students marched in protest against fee hikes and cuts to higher education. Their chants filled each pause in the speaker’s swearing-in ceremony.

In response, Perez pledged to protect students' rights to affordable higher education.

“As speaker, I will fight for all of California’s higher education system,” Perez said, “because we need to restore sense to higher education and put our student needs first.”

After the ceremony, new Assembly Speaker John Perez said he would focus on “what is really possible.”

This year, that might not be much. The state government’s multi-billion dollar deficit, coming a year after legislators cut services by $60 billion, leaves few places to cut some more.