John A. Pérez was sworn in as Speaker of the California Assembly yesterday in the State Capitol. He brings to the Speakership a deep compassion for and commitment to California’s needy. Pérez is a longtime labor leader and a longtime environmental leader, serving 10 years as a CLCV Board Member.
Speaker Pérez’s history with CLCV goes back to the early 1990’s when John began working with me to identify and clarify the views of candidates running for legislative office. Comparing notes about candidates at some long-forgotten political function, we both realized that the candidates were giving different answers to the same questions depending on whom they were answering. We decided on the spot to meet with the candidates together to prevent them from changing their answers in order to pander to the audience at hand. This had the salutary effect of getting candidates to think more deeply about the relationship of labor and environmental issues, as well as environmental issues and the economy.
John immediately impressed me as a person of great intelligence. He is articulate, honest and full of integrity. In my 20 years with CLCV, I have found John to be one of the most astute political minds I have ever encountered. I knew from the earliest meeting with him that he was destined for leadership. When John won his Assembly seat in 2008, it was clear to me that he would be the next Speaker. So satisfaction was the overwhelming emotion when watching John A. Pérez swear the oath of office.
Working with John, I quickly learned that his environmental commitment grew out of his upbringing in East Los Angeles, an area that had become a dumping ground for undesirable projects deemed unsuitable for more affluent areas. John read his first Environmental Impact Report at the ripe age of 13. Moreover, his unwavering commitment to the workers he represented in the labor movement included insuring their right to a clean healthy environment in the workplace and in their homes. Since his political organizing debut at 13, John has not stopped organizing on behalf of the neediest members of our society.
(A side note: U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis introduced John Pérez at the swearing-in ceremony. The Secretary, too, has a long association with CLCV, which supported her in her first race for Assembly, her first state Senate race and her first run for Congress when, against all bets, she unseated an incumbent Congressman in the primary. Longtime CLCV members may recall that Solis received CLCV’s Environmental Leadership Award when she served in the California Senate. Solis — CLCV Lifetime score 98.4% — was the author of the country’s first environmental justice legislation.)
Speaker Pérez takes the reins in the California Assembly at a time of great budget challenges, high unemployment, a moribund economy and excruciating political pressure by corporate interests and their political allies to roll back the laws that protect California’s health and wild places in the false promise of creating jobs. It is comforting to know that our new Speaker has the knowledge, will, and skills to keep our basic environmental protections strong.