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Contest for next Assembly speaker tightens

December 2, 2009 | 12:39 pm

After months of jockeying, the race to become the next leader of the California Assembly has hit the home stretch, with two Los Angeles Democrats appearing headed for a showdown vote as soon as next week.

Supporters of John A. Perez, a freshman, say he has sewn up enough support to become heir-apparent to Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). If that proves true, it will mark a come-from-behind victory over his main rival, Kevin De Leon, who has been campaigning for the job for months.

A victory by Perez, who would become the first openly gay lawmaker to hold the post, could also be something of a victory for Bass, who has held the job for less than two years. Bass recruited Perez and has been working aggressively to secure the spot for him.

Several lawmakers say Bass has crafted a deal with Perez that would allow her to remain speaker for several more months, with the freshman taking the top post by spring. De Leon, the legislators said, has been pushing to become speaker immediately.

Perez has gained strength in recent days as other speaker candidates – Democrats Felipe Fuentes of Sylmar and Anthony Portantino of La Canada-Flintridge – abandoned their efforts and threw him their support. Fuentes said Perez has the job sewn up.

“I know for a fact that we have far more than the requisite number of votes,” said Fuentes, who praised Perez’s strength as a labor negotiator and called him “a strategic and pragmatic thinker, and more important, an implementer.”

Others were not so sure it was a done deal. Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Montebello, one of a half-dozen Democrats who had yet to take sides, said the race remains extremely close.
“Anyone who says it’s in the bag has to be viewed with suspicion,” Calderon said.

--Eric Bailey in Sacramento

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