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Gay Latino to lead California Assembly
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Gay Latino to lead California Assembly

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

California Assemblyman John Perez, an openly Gay Latino Democrat from Los Angeles, was unanimously chosen by the Assembly's Democratic Caucus to succeed Karen Bass as the lower house's leader on December 10. Perez, 40, is expected to be formally voted in as the 68th Assembly speaker next month, making him the body's first openly Gay leader.

"It's obviously an incredibly moving experience to have the unanimous support of my colleagues," Perez said following the vote. "I think it says more about California than it does about me - it means that California is a place where everybody has a seat at the table, that we're a state where everybody brings forward their contributions."

Gay advocates immediately praised Perez's election, calling it a historic moment for the state and the nation.

"History was made yesterday when Perez was chosen to become the first openly LGBT Latino assembly speaker," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, an organization dedicated to achieving equality for LGBT Californians. "His selection is a testament to what he has already accomplished in the Legislature and his history of leadership in the fight for worker's rights, the environment, the civil rights movement and full equality for the LGBT community, and the trust his colleagues have in his leadership at this critical time in California."

Perez, a former union organizer who is the cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has ties to labor, recently working as political director for a Southern California local of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. This year, Perez served as chairman of the Democratic Caucus and took the lead securing votes during intense negotiations on water policy. Although it is unusual for a freshman lawmaker to gain such political clout early on in their career, his supporters say Perez's negotiating experience is proof of his qualifications.

The Los Angeles-raised UC Berkeley graduate will inherit a set of difficult challenges, including the state's staggering projected $20.7 billion deficit through June 2011. As speaker, he will be responsible for uniting Democrats for controversial votes and be a key player during budget negotiations with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While 2010 will be a challenging year for Perez - and all California lawmakers, for that matter - the fact remains his election is historic for the LGBT and Latino communities.

"It's very, very poignant," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who is also openly Gay. "I was a personal friend of [slain] San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, and to live long enough to see this is very significant. & Like Milk said, 'You have to give them hope,' and I think what happened today is going to give people hope."

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