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John Perez is elected Assembly speaker in party-line vote

January 7, 2010 | 12:55 pm

The California Assembly today elected Los Angeles Democrat John Perez as its leader in the first party-line vote with a challenger in a dozen years, despite recent promises by both sides of bipartisan cooperation over the looming budget crisis.

Perez, who is expected within the next month or two to officially take over the speakership from Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), faced a challenge today from Republican leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo. It is the first time the speakership has been contested in a floor vote since the 1998 election of labor leader Antonio Villaraigosa, who is Perez's cousin.

A freshman legislator, Perez is a former labor leader who will be the first openly gay Assembly speaker in California history. Republicans drew the ire of some Democrats, who questioned what part of Perez's background GOP lawmakers found objectionable.

"I'm sure there are some elements of homophobia, although I know many of the Republicans personally and they are not,'' said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Assembly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.

Blakeslee, who received 26 votes to Perez's 48, said some Republican lawmakers were uncomfortable voting for Perez based on his politics and union background.

"Labor was a serious concern and also we have dramatically different views on how to move the state forward and return jobs to California," said Blakeslee said. "The issue of his [sexual] orientation was not raised by a single member in any conversations I heard.''

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento