Perez elected Assembly speaker in partisan floor vote

As expected, Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was elected to be the next speaker of the California state Assembly Thursday. But unlike the four speakers before him, Perez was elected on a party-line vote rather than by unanimous consent.

Republicans explained their change with recent tradition in a number of different ways Thursday. But many Democrats said that Perez’s sexual orientation was the reason Republicans refused to cast their vote for him as their next leader.

Instead, Republicans nominated their leader, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, as speaker. Blakeslee became the first Republican since Rod Pacheco in 1998 to be nominated for speaker.

“It was all about nominating a Republican and had nothing to do with John,” said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, who seconded Blakeslee’s nomination on the floor. “I think given the critical nature the state is facing, it’s important to nominate someone with our point of view.”

That was dismissed by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who, like Perez, is gay. “In the same spirit of bipartisanship, I’d like to nominate Sam Blakeslee for Miss Congeniality,” Ammiano quipped. “The gay issue is obviously one that’s a wedge in some people’s minds. Frankly, it seemed a little bit silly to me, but luckily for all of us, John is above all that.”

Perez himself dismissed the partisan divide at a press conference after the vote Thursday — a press conference where Blakeslee stood alongside Perez and dozens of Assembly Democrats.

“Republicans had to make a decision about how they wanted to handle it,” he said. “I think it was more an expression of support for (Blakeslee’s) leadership than anything else.”

Blakeslee said he was “very impressed” with Perez, and also downplayed the vote Thursday. “We’re just going back to more historic roles about how we elect a speaker,” he said. “We’re taking a more traditional approach.”

But the approach is a break with recent tradition, which has sought to eliminate the partisan nature of speakership selection in the name of bipartisanship. The last four speakers were all elected with a voice vote, and all four votes came without any objections.

The final tally in Thursday’s vote was a straight party-line vote, with Perez receiving 48 votes and Blakeslee receiving 26. Independent Assemblyman Juan Arambula cast his vote for Perez.

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