Perez, De Leon reach truce over speakership

Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, is set to become the next choice for California state Assembly’s next speaker, after meeting with his top rival, Kevin De Leon, and De Leon supporters in the Capitol Thursday morning.

Perez told reporters Thursday he expected the caucus to vote on a new leader today. It was still unclear whether that leadership change would be formalized in an Assembly floor vote or not.

Perez met with about one dozen Assembly Democrats who were still backing De Leon for the Assembly’s top job. De Leon supporters came out of the meeting voicing support for Perez. “John Perez will be our next speaker,” said Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, a former De Leon supporter.

De Leon, in limited comments to reporters, characterized this morning’s meeting as “productive and positive.”

It was still unclear whether Perez would simply be selected by his caucus, or have the vote formalized on the Assembly floor Wednesday. Democrats are set to meet this afternoon to discuss leadership, but Perez’s eventual elevation to speaker now seems inevitable. Perez will take over for Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, some time early next year. Bass’s office says a timeline for a leadership transition has not been been worked out.

The truce bewteen Perez and his main rival for the job, Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, the last two candidates to replace Bass came after two rivals in the race for Assembly speaker met this week at a meeting attended by the powers of Los Angeles politics to help heal wounds caused by the speakership battle between two former political allies.

The race between  Perez and  De Leon for the Assembly’s top job caused rifts within the house’s Democratic Caucus, and among their surrogates who had been close political allies. A meeting hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Monday night was aimed at healing some of those wounds and bringing the speakership fight to a close.

Among those in attendance were De Leon, Perez, Villaraigosa, Bass, and former Speaker Fabian Nunez, a childhood friend and strong supporter of De Leon.

The meeting went into the early morning hours Tuesday, and by Wednesday there was a notable détente that had taken hold in the Capitol. The behind-the-scenes trash talking from surrogates of Perez and De Leon subsided Wednesday, and details from both the meeting and the plans for the week were closely guarded by both sides.

The silence seemed to be part of an effort to restore the trust between the De Leon and Perez allies who – until Perez’s entry into the speakership race last week – were thought by most political observers to be one and the same.

Word that De Leon had officially opted to stop his quest for the job came Wednesday evening. 

Perez, who had the support of Bass, is said to have pledged support from a majority of the Assembly’s 50 Democrats. Although technically it takes 41 votes to elect a speaker, Democrats have deferred in the past to whomever wins a majority of the caucus support. De Leon’s concession makes it likely Democrats will unify behind Perez.

Early in the week, Perez forces were claiming victory, but De Leon loyalists held firm. The holdout was a notable departure from when Fabian Nunez and Bass secured the job – the caucus quickly coalesced around a candidate once that person had secured a majority of the caucus’s support.

Supporters of De Leon remained defiant last week despite Perez’s obvious momentum. They expressed displeasure that Bass had orchestrated Perez’s rise, although Perez had pledged to support De Leon. And they contend Bass has spoken to the press more than she has spoken to members of her own caucus.

Another wrench in Perez’s speakership plans has come from Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. Perez held a fundraiser for Cedillo’s congressional rival Judy Chu earlier this year. Chu bested Cedillo in the race, with the help of Villaraigosa and organized labor.

Cedillo has vowed to challenge Perez in the Democratic primary for Perez’s Assembly seat. Cedillo represented the district for nearly four years, before being elected to the Senate in 2002. Cedillo’s supporters touted poll numbers last week that showed the senator with a large lead over Perez among registered Democrats. Perez’s political consultant, Douglas Herman, dismissed the survey results as meaningless.

Without the speakership, De Leon’s immediate political future remains somewhat murky. He would be a strong contender for Cedillo’s Senate seat in 2010, but sources close to De Leon say they would not be surprised if the Assemblyman passed on a Senate run. De Leon has long set his sights on local office in Los Angeles, though no city council seat would be available for three more years.

Perez supporters said they believe the time is right for the caucus to elect a successor to Bass. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael said this week was “a logical and appropriate time to go ahead and take a vote” on the speakership. Huffman said he expected there to be a vote in caucus this week, and then a vote on the floor.

When asked about the possibility of a protracted power struggle, Huffman said, “I expect John will win the vote, and that cooler heads will prevail.” Huffman said he expected Perez to eventually be elected with the unanimous support of the Assembly Democrats, and said “to do anything else would be completely destructive and reckless.”

“To allow this to go to the floor unresolved would be irresponsible and damaging to the caucus – from either side,” Huffman said.

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