NOTE FROM PAM: I met John A. Perez at last year's Victory Fund Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference (I moderated a panel on minority communities and LGBT issues, "Winning Coalitions for the Common Good," on which he served). John was fantastic — blunt and honest about the challenges and tensions after the passage of Prop 8. He would be a formidable presence if he captures the speakership; incumbent Speaker Karen Bass endorsed Perez.

John A. Perez poised to make American history

By Karen Ocamb, originally posted on LGBT POV

John A. Perez reminds me to put the initial “A” in his name when I write stories about him.

I don’t know how many other people with the name “John Perez” there might be in the state of California – but by next Thursday, arguably the most famous John Perez will be the first-term Assemblymember drafted by his colleagues to be America’s first openly gay speaker of any state legislature.

His election appears to be a “fait accomplis,” if one is to believe Capitol Weekly:

“Capitol sources said if Perez is able to secure a majority of his caucus, the vote on a new speaker could come by next week, when the Assembly reconvenes to vote on education legislation.

On Wednesday, incumbent Speaker Karen Bass endorsed Perez. She said she expects the full Assembly Democratic Caucus to vote on a new speaker on December 10.


One of those involved in the Draft Perez movement was Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Huffman told Capitol Weekly Tuesday, ‘I believe John now has the votes. I think it’s over.’”

Rick Jacobs, openly gay founder of the online progressive Courage Campaign, expressed his support via Huffington Post:

“John Perez is California. He’s openly gay. He’s Latino. He’s a son of Los Angeles. He’s an intellectual, a strategist, an environmentalist, a labor leader. He’s an organizer, a skilled consensus-builder, a unifier and a stunningly disarming public speaker. John is that rare elected official that we know will hold the public interest at heart.


California rarely has the opportunity to place the assembly in the hands of a speaker for more than a year or two. John would follow Karen Bass, who has lived through one of the worst imaginable times in our history. Karen is a true progressive, and she supports John. So do I.

And while these leadership battles seem very arcane and insider, it’s time for all of us in this state who support progress to understand that we have a stake in who leads our assembly.”

Longtime openly gay politico Garry Shay, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Executive Committee, and Lead Chair of the Rules Committee of the California Democratic Party, told me:

“I have known John A. Perez for over a decade.  He is far and above one of the most intelligent, quick-witted individuals I know.  He has empathy for those less fortunate, a clear sense of integrity, and a great sense of humor.  His ability to understand complex problems is phenomenal.  I have the utmost confidence in him.  California, and the Assembly, will be well-served by him as Speaker.”

John Perez and ericAnd then there’s Eric Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. Perez is Bauman’s best friend and served as the best man at his wedding to longtime partner Michael Andraychak, when Bauman was serving as Special Assistant to Gov. Gray Davis.

Perez and Bauman met in that heady year of 1994. There was no “AIDS drug cocktail” at the time and gay men were dying fast. Bauman was the newly elected President of the important LA-based Stonewall Democratic Club – and Perez was working the club to get an endorsement for his cousin, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was running against closeted gay Brian Quintana to represent the 45th District.

John Perez antonioVillaraigosa won, as did Sheila James Kuehl – who also became the first openly gay person elected to the California Legislature. Villaraigosa approached Kuehl in their first days on the floor and suggested that the two start the first LGBT Caucus. Perez got very heavily involved in Stonewall after the election.

I asked Eric if it was accurate to suggest that Perez might prove to be something like the effective Willie Brown – the pre-term limits Assembly Speaker from 1980-1995, noting Perez’s ability to court and charm, negotiate, and twist arms when necessary. Bauman said:

“It is perfectly reasonable to allude to his studying and emulating Willie Brown’s political skills, sharing the intellectualism of Bob Hertzberg [who followed Villaraigosa as Assembly Speaker in 2000] and demonstrating the charm and ability to bring people together of Antonio.

But what is amazing is how this has come together with little actual campaigning on John’s part. He was drafted by his colleagues, including two who were contestants for speaker. They went to him and asked him to step up and run for speaker. He was preparing to run for the Senate. That is a real demonstration of the leadership skills he posses and demonstrates.

I could not be prouder of John. It seems as if he was born to be Speaker. He has the extraordinary intellectual vigor, combined with keen political and tactical instincts and years of experience as an organizer and negotiator. When you combine those assets with the fine taste of a gay man, you have the perfect guy to be our nation’s first openly gay legislative speaker.

If John’s ascends to the speakership, youngsters in our community, especially youngsters of color, will have an incredible role model; adults will have a fearless champion they can count on to stand up for what’s right. What a victory for the LGBT community!”

Here’s the take away, as Bauman noted: Perez was drafted because his colleagues think that in this time of economic crisis – California faces at least a $21.7 billion deficit – John A. Perez is not only qualified for the job, he will be an effective leader.

I’ve known John since I first started reporting on the LGBT community in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. He was kind enough to sit down with me over lunch at the French Market in West Hollywood and explain the intricacies of Latino state politics – who was siding with whom and why.  One of his great strengths is that he has the patience to be an “explainer in chief,” when called upon.

I have also watched him graciously move aside when the Latino leaders wanted to promote someone else – whose name I don’t even remember now! I suspect it is that graciousness, coupled with the honing of leadership skills that comes from working tirelessly for the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union – as well as workers who are not unionized – that prompted Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to appoint John Chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

UPDATED: One of those Latino leaders – Gil Cedillo – who is termed out in his state Senate seat – is challenging John in the primary for John’s Assembly seat. Capitol Weekly reported Thursday:

A new poll commissioned by Sen. Gil Cedillo shows him with a 26-point lead over incumbent Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, in a potential Democratic primary match-up.

Cedillo’s potential challenge of Perez is being used by allies of Assemblyman Kevin De Leon to try to slow down Perez’s momentum in the battle for Assembly speaker. De Leon and Perez both seeking the speaker’s job. De Leon’s backers have cautioned Assembly Democrats from electing a speaker who could potentially lose a primary, or have to spend heavily to protect his own seat.

Perez’s political consultant Douglas Herman dismissed the survey results, saying surveys at this stage of a campaign measure nothing but name identification. “Polling is like any statistic,” said Herman. “You can make polling numbers say what you want them to say.”

Herman noted polls that showed Cedillo running ahead of Judy Chu in a recent race for Congress – a race that Chu won.

“This is not even a credible poll,” Herman said. “This is a poll floated by the same guy who all the polls showed would win his congressional race. And the conduct of his campaign, and the money he spent clearly shows he’s lost credibility in this district.”

While Cedillio has been an advocate for people with HIV/AIDS – several LGBT politicos with whom I have spoken basically snarl at Cedillio for what they perceive is a crass attempt to save his own political hide at the expense of the earned rise to power of an openly gay Latino.

John Perez bienestarJohn has also worked on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS – as acknowledged by the grassroots Latino group Bienestar, has sponsored important LGBT legislation and was named the Man of the Year for 2009 by Christopher Street West, the LA LGBT Pride organization.

Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, said:

“Equality California strongly supports John A. Perez becoming the next Speaker of the California Assembly.  He would be the first openly LGBT person to hold this very prestigious post.  He is a effective and passionate advocate for LGBT and civil rights, labor and other progressive issues and would make an excellent Speaker for California.  With California facing unprecedented challenges our state needs a strong leader like Assemblymember Perez.”

John Perez CSW

As his official Assembly bio says:

“Growing up in the working class communities of El Sereno and Highland Park, John’s parents taught him the value of hard work and community service. With over 15 years working within the labor movement, John has channeled these values into fighting to create jobs, expand healthcare and protect workers’ rights.”

And here he is commenting on the California Supreme Court ruling upholding Prop 8. Meet John A. Perez, first in English, then Spanish.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding