Henry T. Perea, who rose from the Fresno City Council to become one of the leading voices among an influential group of moderate Democrats in the state Assembly, said Tuesday that he will resign his seat Dec. 31 – a move that sets in motion a complicated replacement process.
Perea, 38, who represented the 31st Assembly District, will depart for a private-sector job with one year remaining in his third and final term. Leaving, he said, wasn’t easy, but he had to move now because the job possibilities he currently has might not be there in a year.
“Who knows what 12 months from today looks like,” he said. “The opportunities come up and you have to make a decision.”
Perea said multiple job possibilities came his way recently after moderate Assembly Democrats successfully flexed their political muscle on several issues, and he has narrowed those offers to two that are in government relations. He will decide, he said, in the next 10 days.
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Already, rumor and educated guessing were flying about the possibilities. The oil industry? Power companies? The pharmaceutical industry? Perea isn’t saying. Whichever job Perea chooses, he would not be allowed to lobby his former colleagues for one year.
Both job possibilities, he said, are in Sacramento.
Still, Perea said he will continue to make Fresno his home. He will commute “as long as my wife says it is cool.” And, he added, she wants to stay in Fresno – at least for now.
Perea’s pending departure feels much the same as the February 2013 decision of Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio to leave the state Senate for a job heading Chevron Corp.’s government relations team in Sacramento.
Who knows what 12 months from today looks like. The opportunities come up and you have to make a decision.
Assembly Member Henry T. Perea
But there are differences. Rubio’s resignation was effective immediately. Perea’s is effective Dec. 31. He plans to take the next month winding down operations in his district.
Whatever his decision, speculation quickly went viral on how the political process to replace him will play out.
A complicated process
There are already two announced candidates to replace Perea, who reaches his term limit in a year. They are Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, a doctor, and Republican Clint Olivier, who is a member of the Fresno City Council. Both are already raising money and gathering endorsements.
The filing period hasn’t even opened, however, so more candidates could jump in the race. All candidates will square off in the June 7 primary election, with the top two finishers, regardless of political party, advancing to the November general election. That is for a regular two-year term.
Also in play is the process to fill the unexpired portion of Perea’s term.
According to the state Elections Code, Gov. Jerry Brown must call a special election within 14 days of Perea’s resignation, which would be by Jan. 14, 2016, at the latest. That election must be between 126 and 140 days after Jan. 14 – unless there is a regularly scheduled election within 180 days, which there is. That is the June 7 primary.
What this means is 31st Assembly District voters may be asked to vote twice that day on the same race. One vote would be in a special election to fill the remainder of Perea’s current term, which ends next December. The other would be to decide which two candidates will face off in the November general election. Further complicating matters: A candidate needs to win 50% of the vote in the special election, otherwise a runoff election between the top two candidates must be held.
If Arambula and Olivier are the only two candidates in the special election, this won’t be an issue. One will win outright in the first election. If more candidates enter the race, it could get tricky.
For Brown, a Democrat, the decision on when to schedule the special election could be political. If he wants to keep the 31st District in Democrat hands, as it has been for 40 years, he will weigh whether Arambula would win more than 50 percent of the vote with the special and primary elections held together on June 7. Or he could schedule the special election earlier, and make June 7 the runoff day.
Gov. Jerry Brown must call a special election within 14 days of Perea’s resignation, which would be by Jan. 14, 2016, at the latest. That election must be between 126 and 140 days after Jan. 14 – unless there is a regularly scheduled election within 180 days, which there is. That is the June 7 primary.
Those decisions, however, are weeks away, and Brown’s office was non-committal Tuesday on how to proceed.
Well before then, Perea will make his final job decision. Perea’s announcement also puts to rest a persistent rumor – that he would make another Fresno mayoral run. In 2008, while serving on the City Council, Perea ran for mayor, losing to current Mayor Ashley Swearengin, whose own term will wrap up next year.
In his most recent campaign statement, Perea had almost $900,000 in his campaign coffers, money he largely could have used for a mayoral run because they were raised under the same campaign finance rules.
Swearengin said she was surprised by Perea’s decision.
“He’s done a great job in serving this community and has been a strong advocate for the Central Valley during his time in the Assembly,” she said. “I certainly wish Henry the best of luck in his next chapter of life.”
Growing up in office
Perea was first elected to office in 2002, when he won a Fresno City Council seat at age 25. He replaced his father, now-Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, on the City Council. He served two terms before being elected to the state Assembly in 2010. He reaches his term limit next year.
While in office, he got married. He now is the father of two, and his wife is expecting a third child.
Looking back, Perea said the story might be different if he came in under new term-limit rules, which allow a state Assembly or Senate member to serve 12 years total in the state Legislature.
“I enjoy the job so much I would stay as long as my constituents elect me,” he said.
Instead, he faced a three-term Assembly limit, and a run for the state Senate likely would have involved a move. Even then, Perea said he was able to serve at a time when the moderate Democrats increased their political power.
When he first took office, he said, moderate Democrats had very little voice in the state Legislature.
“Now mods have the power to provide alternate solutions,” he said. “I’m very proud of my work with the mods.”
Perea was 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, Brown and state legislative 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 downside in the Legislature, Perea said, was the times he worked months on a policy proposal only to see it die in the waning hours of the session.
Through it all, he said he loved his time in the Assembly.
“This certainly was not an easy decision,” Perea said. “I love being a public servant. I love being in politics. But the offers don’t wait around for you. You have to make a choice. I made a choice and I feel good about it.”