A Union Man Who Would Be Speaker

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Look up a mention of Assemblyman John Perez and invariably you see his identification as cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Soon, however, Perez may not need his cousin’s fame as a reference point if he secures the votes necessary to become the next speaker of the California Assembly.

Reports have Perez closing in on the 26 Democratic members’ votes he will need to capture the top spot in the Assembly. Only one year in office serving in the same district of former speaker Fabian Nunez, Perez could hold the speaker’s chair for five years in the term-limited legislature.

One of the big questions about Perez will be how he will deal with public employee unions. The public unions are strong supporters of the Democratic Party and Perez is a union man. In his pre-Assembly days, he was a leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

It so happens that Perez was a speaker at the public policy class I teach at Pepperdine University on Monday. During the Q&A with the students he was asked about his position on the powerful public unions, particularly in regard to the burning question about pensions.

Perez spoke positively about union workers. He also argued in favor of defined benefits in pension plans currently enjoyed by public workers. That would put him at odds with Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to set up a two-tier public pension system eliminating defined benefit for new hires.

However, Perez emphasized that even if politicians are helped into office by public employee unions, they cannot forget their role as management when it is time to negotiate contracts. Elected officials must be held accountable for their fiscal decisions in negotiating with unions and the elected officials must remember, as management, they represent the taxpayers, he said. Perez acknowledged often that is not the case.

He also noted he supported Prop 1A on the May special election ballot, which contained a spending limit formula, and was opposed on those grounds by some of the most powerful public unions.

Will a union man as Speaker talk straight to the public unions about their part in fixing Californian’s fiscal problems or will unions demand a Democratic speaker toe the union line?

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