I am home from Sacramento tonight. Today began a new and exciting era for our State! My good friend John Perez was sworn in as Speaker of the California Assembly today. The first openly gay Speaker! A Latino man of great physical stature only 40 years ikd, John has a heart as big as California. I had the privilege of participating in the interfaith service early this morning in the Catholic Cathedral of Sacramento. An array of religious leaders gathered to offer words of their sacred Scriptures to Speaker Perez and the elected leaders of our state. A packed Cathedral sang “Let Their Be Peace On Earth” and “America the Beautiful”. I was asked to offer a blessing to Speaker Perez and the newly elected or re-elected legislators. It was a humbling moment to offer a prayer for them and their families.
Sitting on the floor of the Assembly during the proceedings later was also amazing. Outgoing Speaker Karen Bass (who is running for the Congress as Rep. Diane Watson is retiring), is always inspiring in her words. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis ( a former member of the California Legislature) and close friend of Speaker Perez shared remarks at the podium in front of Governor Schwarzenegger and Senate President Darrell Steinberg ( his brother is Rabbi Rick Steinberg of Orange County). Then the Gay Men’s Chorus sang. WOW! Fifty members of Los Angeles’ great chorus gave their all. They began with “America the Beautiful and then sang “It’s A Brand New Day” from the musical “The Wiz”. Speaker Perez knew all the words and was singing along. It was wonderful to see the Assembly members clapping along and smiling at such great music even across the aisle to the Republicans.
Then several legislators offered words of introduction and respect for our new Speaker.
And then for me one of the highlights: John Perez was escorted down the center aisle to take the oath of office. Accompanying him were former Speakers: Willie Brown, Cruz Bustamante, Antonio Villaragosa (who I kept running into the whole day including on the plane ride home!), Bob Hertzberg, Fabian Nunez and former legislator and Democratic Party Leader, Richard Katz. John climbed the rostrum and was given the oath of office by none other than Associate Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno. As you will remember Moreno was the only California Supreme Court Justice who voted to throw out Prop 8. The symbolism was obvious and made clear by Speaker Perez in his own remarks as he thanked Justice Moreno for his courage and commitment to equality and liberty.
John’s speech to his fellow assembly members did what I expected–he reached across the partisan divide to Republicans while articulating his own strong agenda of reform of the budget process, jobs for California, access to education for those in our California Higher Education institutions to name a few. I was sitting behind a couple of Republican legislators and one leaned over to the other at the end of John’s speech and said, “That was a very good speech.” They recognize his leadership skills and I hope they will work alongside him to make California the golden state once again.