California’s new Assembly Speaker, John Perez, attempted to set a tone of inclusiveness at his swearing in yesterday, not only with minority party Republicans, but also with the people of California on the difficult budget dealings.
Perez declared a couple of committee chairmanships would go to Republicans. He also stated he would open the budget process for all by holding budget meetings around the state before the eyes of the public. Further, he said the budget would not be the product of Big 5 meetings between legislative leaders and the governor.
The key to Perez’s effectiveness will be his ability to deal with his roots in the labor movement. Perez points out his history with the United Food and Commercial Workers involved him with a private labor union. However, his close ties to public labor are undeniable.
And, it is labor’s dominance under the capitol dome that has greatly influenced the difficult budget problems that Perez hopes to ameliorate.
Perez could be speaker for quite awhile. He is only in his first year in office and has five years before term limits forces him out. Furthermore, an initiative currently in circulation could change the term limit rules and give him more time if it makes the ballot and is passed by voters. If the measure becomes law, the Democrats maintain the majority and Perez continues to enjoy loyalty from the ranks, he could be a speaker for a decade.
Last, November, the day the news broke that Perez was in contention as the next speaker, he addressed my class at Pepperdine’s Graduate School of Public Policy. I wrote at the time that, speaking to the class, “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.”
A couple of weeks later, John Wildermuth commented on this site, that former Speaker Willie Brown said flatly that Perez got the job as Speaker because he was pro-labor. Wildermuth wrote that Perez might have to anger labor when making hard choices to fix the budget.
I have worked with Perez on state commissions and I believe he is open to hearing different points of view, has a realistic view of how government works, is willing to compromise and to make hard choices.
Will he be able to stand up to pressure at crunch time – to demand concessions from old allies, or maintain his goal of open budget meetings when negotiations seem to be going nowhere?
Perez laid out a generally positive formula for success in his swearing-in speech. Now he will have to act. As they say, actions speak louder than words.