News Column

Perez Faces Pivotal Year in California Legislature

Dec. 26, 2012

Jim Sanders, The Sacramento Bee

John Perez

John A. Perez is the Assembly's traffic cop, its buck-stops-here leader who can kill bills before they reach a floor vote -- a role made even more pivotal by Democrats' supermajority in 2013.

The Los Angeles Democrat is entering his final term in the Assembly, his last chance to polish his legacy and a time when legislators typically eye their next political race.

Rick Jacobs, leader of the liberal Courage Campaign, said that Perez will be judged partly by whether he sets the stage for California's future rather than targets mostly short-term gains.

"That includes shaping a legislative agenda that isn't just a little bit here and a little bit there, a hodgepodge, but a coherent and cohesive progressive agenda," Jacobs said.

Perez said that he doesn't believe in legacies and plans to "continue moving in the direction that we have been."

"I hope people would remember me as a speaker who served in very difficult times and tried to bring about stability in the state at a moment that was very important, someone who focused on protecting jobs for people and expanding opportunity," he said. "But that's for them to decide, not for me to decide."

Perez has formed an exploratory campaign committee to run for lieutenant governor in 2018, but Capitol analysts have speculated that he could run for Los Angeles city councilman, county supervisor or a state Senate seat long before then.

The Assembly leader vows to make job creation and economic recovery key priorities in 2013, while public employee unions push for his help on issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to squeezing more state revenue from corporations.

"We're going to ask Democrats to stand up and do the right thing," said Willie Pelote, political and legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Pelote and Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association, each say they have confidence in and respect for Perez -- but their conflicting interests reflect the delicate balancing act facing the Assembly leader in 2013.

"Do no harm," Dombrowski said of his hopes for Perez. "Our expectations are the opposite of labor."

Now that Democrats hold two-thirds of the seats in both legislative houses, they can pass tax measures without any GOP votes.

But Perez shrugged off the impact of the supermajority.

"Our goal has got to be to create long-term stability for the state, job growth for the state, and a continuation of California's sense of opportunity for every generation," he said.

Priority issues include affordable college education and implementation of federal health care reform, he said.

Perez said he has no plans to seek a tax increase, but Republican critics say his resolve may crumble as pressures mount within his Democratic Party in the coming year.

Numerous revenue-related ideas have been floated by other lawmakers, including altering commercial tax obligations under Proposition 13, lowering the sales tax rate but extending it to services, reclassifying various fees as taxes to provide spending flexibility and asking voters to lower the threshold for passing local taxes or bonds.

Perez's challenge will be to balance tensions not only between business and labor, but between liberal and moderate Democrats, and between interest groups jockeying for funding after years of red ink.

"Every idea that people have will be vetted, whether it comes from a Democrat or a Republican," he said simply.

John A. Perez

Age: 43

Office: Assembly speaker

Resume highlight: Leader of the 80-member state Assembly, part of a two-house Democratic supermajority in the Legislature for the first time since 1883.

Biggest challenge in 2013: Keeping Democrats from using their new clout to enact tax or social policies that tilt so far left that they threaten the state budget or the party's election prospects for 2014.

Chief goal in 2013: Renew last year's fight to launch middle-class college scholarships. The Los Angeles Democrat also identifies job creation, economic development and state budget stability as top priorities.

Source: (c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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