It seems like just yesterday that I was standing by a pool in Santa Barbara when I learned that Karen Bass, a community organizer from South Los Angeles and a two-term member of the Assembly, was going to be the next Speaker of the Assembly. Most of us, myself included, were excited to finally get some progressive leadership in that office, after the era of Fabian Núñez.
That was nearly two years ago. In that time, Speaker Bass has become the poster woman for how the structural problems of our state can frustrate even good people. I have disagreed with her on many issues while she was Speaker, and broke with her on the May 19 special election propositions, even after a long Sunday afternoon phone call last spring where she tried to convince myself and other Courage Campaign staffers to support those initiatives (ultimately, our members voted to endorse a “No” vote on all six). She never fully broke with the wheeling and dealing culture of Sacramento, perhaps because she felt she had no other options, or perhaps because she felt the deals were genuinely good ones.
Even so, I still believe she was and is a progressive person. We don’t know all the details of what went down in her two years as Speaker, but we know that for whatever reason, whether by choice or by insurmountable obstacles, she wasn’t able to produce the more progressive state she wanted.
And since she is termed out in 2010, the jockeying to replace her has already begun:
Bass wants to follow the procedure she agreed with in taking over from former Speaker Fabian Nunez, with a lengthy transition period, beginning in January when she hopes the Democratic caucus will agree with her.
But, two members, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes of Van Nuys and Kevin De Leon of Hollywood, are aggressively trying to get commitments to back them as the next speaker.
So far, the two are going along with Bass’ request, but observers say that is because neither one has the 26 votes needed to get over the top….
The result: Democratic caucus members have been looking at a third choice, Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles.
Perez, who is a cousin of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would be the first openly gay member to serve as speaker.
I’m not sure that the way Rick Orlov has framed this is quite correct – I’ve been hearing that Pérez was a possible successor to Bass since late last year. And there may still be other candidates seeking the post, such as Fiona Ma.
Still, the Fuentes-de León-Pérez contest seems to be where all the action is. As usual, these races don’t typically turn on the issues themselves, so much as power politics, relationships, promises, connections, etc, particularly in an era of term limits. de León is termed out in 2012, but Fuentes and Pérez aren’t termed out until 2014.
We’ll be watching closely how this all shakes out.
UPDATE by Robert: More on this from Capitol Weekly, which reports Fuentes and his supporters are throwing their weight behind Pérez. de León has 22 votes, needing 26 to win, but Asm. Jared Huffman of Marin County says “it’s over” and that it will be Pérez:
Huffman told Capitol Weekly Tuesday, “I believe John now has the votes. I believe it’s over.”
Huffman said the pivotal moment came when Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, dropped out of the race and pledged his support to Perez.
If indeed it is Pérez, he could potentially be speaker for four years, about as much continuity in leadership as is possible in a term-limited environment.