News & Opinion » Seven Days

California's First Openly Gay Speaker

Democrat John Perez of Los Angeles is slated to become the highest ranking gay politician in state history.



California may not have gay marriage, but it's about to get its first openly gay speaker of the Assembly — Democrat John Perez of Los Angeles. The Assembly speaker is the second or third most powerful position in state politics, after the governor and the Senate president pro tem. Powerful speakers of the past include Willie Brown and Jesse Unruh. Perez, as a result, will become the highest-ranking gay politician in state history.

Current Speaker Karen Bass, also of the Los Angeles area, said Perez has her support and the backing of a majority of the Assembly. Assemblywomen Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Mary Hayashi of Hayward also have endorsed Perez, according to Capitol Weekly. Bass plans to step down from the position early next year.

Perez is a political newcomer, only having served in the Assembly for one year. That means this cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus could serve as speaker for up to five years — a long reign in the era of term limits. Perez, in other words, should have plenty of time to solidify his power base and build influence. His long tenure also promises to increase the influence of the Assembly and help advance the cause of gay rights.

No O.J. Trial for BART Cop

It's widely accepted that the media circus surrounding the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles intensified when Judge Lance Ito allowed the case to be televised. The conventional wisdom was that the resulting "observer effect," in which the outcome of an event is changed by the fact that it was observed, altered the actions of the judge, the attorneys, and the jury in the case. But that apparently won't be an issue in the murder trial of ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle, because the Los Angeles judge overseeing the case plans to ban TV cameras in his courtroom, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Judge Robert Perry, a former federal prosecutor who is regarded as a no-nonsense jurist, doesn't want to fuel more publicity in the case involving the homicide of BART passenger Oscar Grant last New Year's. The case was moved to downtown Los Angeles after an Alameda County judge ruled that Mehserle couldn't get a fair trial in the East Bay because of extensive pretrial media coverage. According to the Chronicle, jurors for the trial, who will not begin to be selected until late next year, will be drawn from a twenty-mile radius around the courthouse, an area demographically similar to Alameda County.

Perata Measure Altered

Backers of a proposed statewide tobacco tax measure co-sponsored by ex-state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata decided to change its language after the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office said it would siphon $45 million annually from early childhood education programs. The Oakland Tribune reported that East Bay kids' programs would have lost about $2.8 million a year.

The proposed substantial cuts had prompted some early childhood education advocates to oppose the measure unless it was changed. At first, backers of the measure, which would levy a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes to fund cancer research, said they had no plans to alter the language of the proposition. In fact, they said they knew it would take money from early childhood education programs when they wrote it. But then they reversed themselves and agreed to come up with new language.

More Mixed Economic News

The nation's unemployment rate dropped slightly to 10 percent last month, down from a high of 10.2 percent in October. The underemployment rate, which also includes part-time workers and people who have stopped looking for jobs, also fell slightly to 17.2 percent in November from 17.5 percent the month before. However, about 15.4 million people who are actively looking for work remain jobless. It's also getting more difficult to find employment, as the average time it takes people to land a job has risen to more than 28 weeks, the longest on record.

The modest job gains also may not last unless this year's holiday shopping season heats up. Nationally, retail sales got off to a slow start and were down 0.3 percent in November, a troubling trend because they were so dismal last year after the financial meltdown.

Locally, Oakland-based retailer Cost Plus posted a $22.1 million loss for the quarter ending October 31, according to the Contra Costa Times. Cost Plus' sales decreased 10.4 percent from the year before. The retailer, however, noted that its sales actually showed modest improvement in the past few months, and said they were up 4.9 percent in November compared to last year.

Three-Dot Roundup

Barnes & Noble in Oakland's Jack London Square plans to close in January when its lease expires. ... Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums spent $60,000 on travel in the past year, but his spokesman defended the expenditures, saying the trips enabled him to score $66 million in federal grants for the city, according to the Chronicle. ... Some Oakland neighborhoods have the lowest life expectancy and the highest rates of heart disease and childhood asthma in the East Bay, the Tribune reports. ... Oakland's Fox Theater still owes $5.1 million to contractors who completed the lavish remodel. ... And most of the Bay Area congressional delegation came out in opposition to President Obama's troop escalation plan in Afghanistan.