1 of 5

Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Leticia Perez was recently sworn in as 5th District Kern County supervisor by state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter.

2 of 5

Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Kern County Supervisor-elect Leticia Perez hugs Michael Rubio after she was sworn in at Supervisors Chambers by the State Senator on Wednesday evening.

3 of 5

Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Pastor Victor Perez acknowledges the crowd while speaking at his daughter Kern County Supervisor-elect Leticia Perez swearing in ceremony at Supervisors chambers on Wednesday evening.

4 of 5

Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Kern County Supervisor-elect Leticia Perez acknowledges applause after her swearing in ceremony at Supervisors chambers on Wednesday evening.

5 of 5

Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

In this file photo from January, Leticia Perez acknowledges applause from a packed Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers with her husband, Fernando Jara, and their son, Jude, after her swearing-in to represent the 5th District.

The air in the Kern County supervisors chambers was filled Wednesday evening with words like "historic" and phrases like "a new era."

And applause and laughter, too.

In the midst of a standing-room only crowd that likely topped 300, Kern County 5th District Supervisor-elect Leticia Perez was sworn in with the help of State Sen. Michael Rubio.

Perez, 36, is an attorney and one of three newcomers elected in November to the five-person county governing board.

Financial adviser and outgoing Bakersfield City Councilman David Couch, and retired Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake commander Mick Gleason, will also join the board as new members.

It's the first time since 1917 that three new supervisors -- a majority -- will take their place on the board at one time.

As the chambers filled Wednesday night, the first to welcome the crowd of family, friends and well-wishers was Pastor Victor Perez, Leticia's father.

"Leticia and I did not come from big money," the elder Perez told the gathering, recalling his own beginnings as a farmworker.

He remembered his daughter working long hours as a waitress, and finally earning a scholarship to give her the opportunity for a higher education.

"You can accept this office with dignity," he told her, a father's pride clearly evident in his voice.

Outgoing 1st District Supervisor Jon McQuiston spoke about the challenges that lie ahead, the need for Kern County's leaders to work together -- "even when we don't see eye-to-eye" -- and the "absolute confidence" he has in Perez's abilities.

Sometimes seeming to resemble a campaign rally as much as a ceremony designed, as Rubio said, "to act out the will of the electorate," the evening was punctuated by stories and laughter.

Prominent local defense attorney H.A. Sala detailed Perez's resume, asserting she has the passion, intellect and vision to help create an environment that invites business investment and job creation.

Attorney for the Kern County Public Defender's office. Member of Sen. Rubio's staff. First woman president of the Kern County Bar association's Criminal Defense Section. Chairwoman of the Kern County Planning Commission.

Sala said her diverse experience will help Perez on the road ahead.

As he prepared to introduce the supervisor-elect, Rubio told the gathering that Perez's election proved once again that "principle can indeed trump power."

Her face glowing following her swearing-in, Perez stood before the crowd and told the story of coming home one day from the fifth grade to find a strange family in her living room. When she looked at one of the children, she realized something was amiss.

"I realized she was wearing my coat," Perez said. "I was not happy."

When the family left, not only was Leticia's new coat gone, but her mother also had made a gift of the Perez's milk, ham and bread.

In tears, she complained bitterly, Perez remembered.

But her mother was unmoved.

"She said, 'You have more on your worst day than they have on their best day,'" Perez remembered.

When she left for law school, she thought she would finally get the chance to travel a different road.

"I said, 'I'm going to become a lawyer. I'm going to become rich and have it all.'"

But eventually, her husband, Fernando, told her it was time to come home to east Bakersfield.

When she asked why, he answered, "It's time to serve."

As she looked out at the smiling faces, Perez said it was no accident that she was standing there before them.

"I knew he was right," she said.