It’s hard not to be sour about politicians these days, but I couldn’t help but be impressed while interviewing Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez last Friday night at a Zocalo Public Square event in Los Angeles.

The speaker’s sharp wit (to the point of irreverence) is perfect for such forums. He made the clearest case I’ve heard for measures to support manufacturing, particularly the sales tax exemption for equipment used in green manufacturing.

He also made an impassioned case for getting rid of the 2/3 supermajority for budget bills. A majority vote budget, he argued, would make the legislature, both majority and minority parties, more accountable. And it would reduce delays that hurt the state’s credit rating – and thus cost California scarce dollars. When I asked him why reform proposals in the legislature wouldn’t eliminate the supermajority for taxes, he said bluntly that the politics were too difficult.

He talked about the need for transparency, for getting away from the Big 5 model of budget negotiations and having budget hearings webcast.

In terms of systemic reform, he expressed some interest in a constitutional revision commission, but flatly opposed a constitutional convention. "The last constitutional convention did wonderful things like passing change that prohibited Chinese from owning property in the state," he said. "I don’t think they’d make that same mistake again, but I think it lends itself to getting into the hot button issues instead of structural issues."

I also pressed him on whether we need changes in elections, in order to give the legislature more legitimacy. Of the 28 newly elected Assembly members in 2008, 15 of them won the primary votes of 10 percent or less of registered voters in a district that is not competitive in the general. Of these, Pérez received the lowest number of voters-4,905, about 5 percent of registered voters.

"I’m just more efficient in using votes," Pérez answered.

You can see the entire conversation on video here.