Leadership fight reveals Bass’s Machiavellian side

Hurt feelings and allegations of treachery are de rigeur when it comes to the politics of the speakership. But the story of Assemblyman John Perez’s rise as a candidate for speaker reveals the little talked about Machiavellian side of Karen Bass, a speaker who is often cited for her calm personal demeanor and affable political style.


Bass, D-Los Angeles, came out publicly in support of Perez’s speakership bid Wednesday, telling the press about her decision before the caucus had formally chosen a new leader. But Bass’s press conference has angered some Assembly Democrats, who complained that they had the idea of a Perez speakership forced upon them with no time to coalesce as a group.


Bass used the press as a weapon to generate momentum for Perez’s speakership this week. And while she says she was John Perez’s “29th vote” for speaker, Bass has been orchestrating Perez’s takeover of the caucus for weeks, and was among his earliest supporters.  


Behind the scenes, Bass has held meetings with Perez and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, in an effort to cobble together a speakership coalition that would stop De Leon. Bass loyalists have bristled at De Leon’s aggressiveness in courting speakership votes. And they complain De Leon has made promises to certain members for jobs and committee chairmanships that may not reflect the best interests of the caucus.


Personal style, as always, has loomed large in this struggle. The efforts from Fuentes, De Leon and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, to put together coalitions for speaker have all been hampered by their personal relationships with some members. 


De Leon supporters say the speakership fight has been over-personalized by Bass and her supporters, and that the Perez troops have been "made this about killing Kevin," in the words of one De Leon supporter. And they note that instead of courting members of her own caucus when Perez appeared to secure a majority of Democratic support, Bass instead went to the press to try to make Perez’s election a fait accompli.


Perez supporters, including those close to Bass, deny this has been personal.


One of those who expressed his frustration at the process was Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach, a supporter of De Leon. “My concern is that it takes 41 votes to elect a speaker,” Furutani said. “We have not had any caucus meeting on this issue, or a caucus vote.”


De Leon supporters clarified Wednesday that 41 vote comment did not mean De Leon would be talking to Republicans about helping him become speaker. It simply meant that the Perez camp, including the speaker, had yet to reach out to De Leon and his supporters.


De Leon’s office declined comment Wednesday, noting that the Speaker’s race should be a private, internal caucus matter, and not something that is hashed out in the press.


Bass said she had not yet talked to DeLeon, and sources close to the Assemblyman said he and Perez had not spoken as of Wednesday night. But Bass dismissed concerns about caucus divisions Wednesday, ensuring there would be time for the caucus to unite, for “the healing to begin.”

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