Capitol Alert

Assemblyman Henry Perea will resign seat to become Capitol advocate

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, being sworn in with new and returning members of the California Assembly on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010.
Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, being sworn in with new and returning members of the California Assembly on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, the unofficial leader of the body’s powerful moderate bloc, announced Tuesday his resignation from office at year’s end to take a job as an advocate at the Capitol.

Perea would have been forced from the Assembly by term limits after 2016. In an interview, Perea said he is considering two positions in government relations and expects to make a decision in the next 10 days.

Sacramento is undergoing a generational shift, he said, indicating the departing officials in both potential positions have been there for decades.

“These jobs don’t wait for you,” Perea, 38, said by phone Tuesday. “You have to make a decision if it’s something you want to do.”

His planned departure recalls the abrupt resignation of another Central Valley Democrat, former state Sen. Michael Rubio of East Bakersfield, who announced two years ago that he was stepping down from the Legislature to take a government affairs position with Chevron Corp. The special election was won by a Republican.

And about this time in 2013, then-state Sen. Bill Emmerson, a Republican from Redlands, said he was resigning. He soon took a job as the California Hospitals Association’s vice president for state relations and advocacy.

Although Perea earns an annual salary of $97,197 as a lawmaker, high-ranking governmental advocates at the Capitol generally have far greater earning potential.

Phillip Ung, director of public affairs at California Forward, said the public often forgets legislators have the same demands and desires as the voters they were elected to represent. While Ung said lawmakers are paid rather well, they do not control their salaries and raises, and don’t receive retirement benefits.

Many talented legislators turn down outside positions before their terms are up, Ung said.

“But sometimes they get an offer that’s just too good to say no,” he said.

Perea, the son of Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea, previously served two terms on the Fresno City Council. He said he plans to remain in Fresno for the time being and stressed that the new position would, for the first time in years, free him up to attend family events on weekends instead of his official duties.

“Even though I am leaving, I will still be involved,” he said.

Perea has more than $860,000 in his campaign account. He also has nearly $50,000 in a ballot measure committee and $40,000 in a campaign committee for state insurance commission in 2018.

He was among the top legislative recipients of pharmaceutical industry contributions in 2013 and 2014, reporting almost $50,000 in donations. On Tuesday, he would not say whether one of the two prospective positions was with PhRMA, the industry’s lobbying trade association.

A spokesman for the association said it does not comment on the hiring process while it is ongoing.

The coming year shapes up as a busy one for PhRMA issues. A proposed drug price-control ballot measure awaits signature verification, and drug companies already have contributed more than $23 million to a committee opposing it. There also is a two-year bill that would require drug companies to disclose more information about pharmaceutical prices.

No matter what he decides to do, Perea would not be allowed to lobby his former colleagues for one year.

Among those lining up to replace him in the Assembly are Democrat Joaquin Arambula, the son of ex-Assemblyman Juan Arambula, and Republican Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier.

Perea is seen as the voice of the Legislature’s business-friendly contingent that for years has scuttled the priorities of fellow Democrats on everything from allowing debtors to keep more of their assets to requiring the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.

This year, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature’s Democrats ultimately abandoned the petroleum-reduction provision of Senate Bill 350 amid resistance from Perea’s group and heavy lobbying by the oil industry.

The moderate caucus has a retreat next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. David Townsend, a political consultant who works with the group, said members planned to choose a successor, or successors, to Perea by the end of the year. Meantime, he praised the outgoing leader for his command of the Capitol.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are opportunities for him outside of elected office,” said Townsend, adding that he doesn’t know where Perea is headed.

“Some people can do policy, and some people can do politics. Henry does both extremely well.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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