Los Angeles lawmaker lines up votes for speaker

December 2, 2009 6:50:37 PM PST
Karen Bass, the State Assembly Speaker is stepping down. Her surprise decision follows brutal behind-the-scenes jockeying to un-seat her.

Her term isn't up until the end of next year, but she wants to ensure a smooth transition for the next speaker, John Perez, who has informally secured 29 votes, through commitment letters, enough to win.

The Los Angeles Democrat would be the first openly gay Speaker of California.

"He's got a tremendous amount of skill set to make sure, with a steady hand, he governs the Legislature and the state," said Assm. Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles.

But the influential Latino caucus met on Wednesday and voted to back Kevin DeLeon instead. He says what counts is the floor vote that includes Republicans.

This sets up an ugly battle for arguably the second most powerful job in the state.

"It's still alive and I'll leave it at that. I'd love to have the job even in today's economic crisis," said DeLeon, D-Los Angeles.

It's unusual for the Assembly to choose a Speaker in December. Karen Bass's term isn't up until the end of next year, such an early move may be an indication of how some Democrats view Bass as ineffective.

At times, she's negotiated important deals with Republicans and Governor Schwarzenegger, but was unable to secure enough votes on the floor to pass them.

"There are members on how her leadership has been. Whether that is a determining factor or not, I think people are ready for a change," said Latino Caucus Vice-Chairman Assm. Tony Mendoza.

But Speaker Bass insists she's not being forced out and that she is ready to go. She says this has been a very painful year for her, having to cut programs she cared about because of the budget crisis.

Her supporters say she has been a good leader under the circumstances.

"Speaker Bass has been very effective, but everyone knew she was just going to be there for a year-and-a-half. So this behind the scenes jostling has been going on for almost a year. It's actually put a little tension on the caucus," said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio.

The full Assembly is expected to vote for a new speaker next Thursday. Speaker Bass would not say when she would officially hand over the reign.


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