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John Pérez sworn in as Assembly speaker

March 1, 2010 | 12:56 pm

Perez California's first openly gay Assembly speaker was sworn in to office in Sacramento early Monday afternoon.

Democrat John A. Pérez, a first-term legislator representing parts of downtown L.A. and East Los Angeles, will face as one of his first tasks the challenge of preserving social programs for his political base as the state struggles with a roughly $20-billion budget deficit.

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles sang prior to the oath.

"He's someone who sends a signal to the nation that being gay is no longer a barrier to greatness," said an Assembly colleague, Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco).

Pérez, 40, a younger cousin of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, came from the back bench to win the speakership in December, leaping over more seasoned members of his party. In one of his first acts as leader of the Assembly, even before the swearing-in, he guided the vote against confirming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pick for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria).

Schwarzenegger has re-nominated Maldonado, and another vote is expected in the coming months.

Supporters praise Pérez for his intelligence and political instincts, but potential longevity could be his greatest strength. Having served only one year in the Legislature so far, Pérez could remain speaker for almost five years, which would be a remarkably long tenure in the era of term limits.

-- Jack Dolan in Sacramento

Photo: John Pérez in December 2009. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press