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.

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