Smart, ambitious and politically skilled, Henry T. Perea quickly rose through the ranks and amassed considerable power as leader of the Assembly’s unofficial caucus of moderate, pro-business Democrats.
Perea, 38, often used this influence to help constituents in his 31st District – one of the poorest in California – and residents in other impoverished rural regions. Some of his best work involved bringing clean drinking water to rural communities, expanding job-training programs and helping write and negotiate the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014.
He also was a strong advocate for the Fresno Veterans Home, transportation infrastructure and the San Joaquin River Parkway. His efforts to pass Assembly Bill 8 resulted in a $2 billion allocation for alternative fuel infrastructure and electric vehicles, and lowered the cost of cleaner burning vehicles for farmers and truckers.
Thus his decision to resign from the Assembly at the end of this year to take a presumably high-paying job in the private sector is a loss for his constituents and the San Joaquin Valley.
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And while he has every right to do what’s best for his family, his departure from the Capitol with a year remaining in his third and final term tarnishes an otherwise strong legislative record.
Elected to state’s lower house in 2010, Perea went to Sacramento with a bit of an attitude: He wouldn’t let lawmakers from California’s coastal regions finance their pet programs on the backs of impoverished Valley residents. That defiant stance sometimes put him at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats.
Perea’s focus on job creation and helping businesses prosper also caused conflict with environmental groups. Critics painted Perea as a sell-out and criticized his campaign contributions from the petroleum industry.
In our view, the Valley benefited greatly from Perea’s realistic approach to politics. He was a shrewd negotiator and vote-trader. But he also refused to cave in to powerful opponents if he believed their legislation would harm the Valley.
Perea went to Sacramento with a bit of an attitude: He wouldn’t let lawmakers from California’s coastal regions finance their pet programs on the backs of impoverished Valley residents. That defiant stance sometimes put him at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats.
Perea would have been a strong contender for the Fresno-area congressional seat held by Rep. Jim Costa, a fellow Democrat. By quitting at midterm, however, he all but forfeits a promising political career.
On one level, Perea’s departure is a consequence of term limits.
“Definitely term limits. That’s what it is,” Perea told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.
His decision to quit early is part of a disturbing trend. Michael Rubio of Bakersfield and Bill Emmerson of Riverside County left the state Senate midterm in 2013. Rubio, a Democrat, became an executive at Chevron. Emmerson, a Republican, became an executive at the California Hospital Association.
Perea will leave office with almost $1 million in his campaign accounts. Although he can legally use that money to curry favor with legislators by contributing to their campaigns, he should use part to help Fresno County defray any special election costs, and return the rest to his donors. A special election to fill his seat would could cost taxpayers anywhere from $75,000 to $530,000, depending on timing.
Like any good father, Perea feels the need to provide for his family. That’s understandable. But serving in elective office is not just any job. It’s an honor and comes with certain obligations.
Legislators ask for votes knowing they are making two- or four-year commitments. Barring health or compelling family reasons, or perhaps election to another office, they should serve their full terms.