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Politics Around Gay Latino State Assembly Speaker


The governor has picked the next speaker for the California Assembly. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy.

The California Assembly, after tussling a bit, has picked its next assembly speaker. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy. Well, the next speaker is Latino from the Los Angeles area, John Pérez. Leo, why do you think lawmakers picked the openly gay lawmaker?

LEO MCELROY: Well, I think it was a personality issue as much as anything, from what we're hearing. Originally, there was a lot of support building up behind another Los Angeles Latino, Kevin de León. And, in fact, even supposedly John Perez had promised to vote for De León for speaker. But there was a battle, as I understand it, over timing, and how soon De León was going to take over, and present Speaker Karen Bass didn't like the feeling she was being pushed, and looked for an alternative, and Pérez, who's personally very popular and seen as a cheerful guy who's competent and honest, was the choice to succed De León, much over De León's objections.

PAMELA DAVIS: Now Pérez said that taxes should be one of the options for closing the state's budget cap. How could this affect his confirmation?

MCELROY: Well, it's probably not going to affect it. It's one of those situations where Republicans are absolutely zero on the tax option. You know, it's a death penalty for a Republican to vote for a tax increase, anyway. But they don't have enough votes to stop him, so they'll probably go along with the game, and vote to confirm, and then complain and gripe all the way to the bank.

DWANE BROWN: Well, they're talking a lot about education reform in Sacramento these days. Why do you think this struggle tests the political power of the California Teachers Association?

MCELROY: Well, the Teachers Association has always been, of course, one of the frontrunners in terms of determining education policy in California, whether they're successful in what they shoot for or not, and in this particular case with California shooting for federal funds that are available to help the schools at a time when we could certainly use the money, they really would like to shape what that education package is going to do. They weren't too happy with the one that came out of the Senate, which basically loosened up the controls on charter schools, and which also gave parents more ability to move their children from failing schools to more successful schools. The Teachers Association does not like those reforms, and in John Pérez as the new speaker apparent, they have a pretty good ally. He's worked a lot of time with the unions, and so the Assembly basically came up with a package much more to the Teachers Association's liking, and much more to the Governor's dislike. He's promised to veto it. That measure, the Assembly measure, is coming up today for a committee hearing in the Senate, and interestingly the chair of the committee that's hearing it is the one who wrote the alternative measure, and she's not expected to like the one the Assembly's producing at all.

DAVIS: The other buzz in Sacramento is about the governor's race. State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner says he'll contribute $15 million of his own money to his GOP campaign for governor. Now how does this affect the dynamics of that race?

MCELROY: Well, it certainly creates an interesting stir. It was just last week that Steve Poizner had made a point, referring to Meg Whitman's free spending ways, that a good way to judge a prospective governor is how he or she handles their money. This was seen as a jab at Meg, and her putting so much money out there. Well, Poizner's now got $15 million more in the pot to play with himself. A result, by the way, of a very unsuccessful fundraising drive. They had tried to raise a modest amount of money from the public, and had gotten no where near it, and basically it was coming down to either come up with the bucks yourself, or say goodbye to the race. He's running third in the polls for the Republican nomination, that's not a comfortable place to be for a statewide office holder with a lot of money.

DAVIS: Well, something to keep an eye on for sure. Non-partisan Sacramento political consultant, Leo McElroy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

MCELROY: You bet.

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