Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez was sworn in Thursday night as the president of the California State Association of Counties, the lobbying and advocacy organization for California’s 58 county governments.
Perez is the first Latina to hold the job and the first Kern County supervisor to take the CSAC presidency since former Supervisor Steve Perez — not related — held it from 1999 to 2000.
Leticia Perez said that, as CSAC President, her job will be to be the organization’s primary spokesperson and lobbyist. She will be responsible for communicating CSAC policies to the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.
She also sets appointments to various committees and tasks within CSAC, she said.
One of the organization's big legislative tasks of the year, Perez said, will be to defend the transportation funding created by SB1 from tax opponents who wish to scuttle the proposed legislative allocation for road maintenance and improvement.
She said the CSAC-supported funding stream is hugely critical for sprawling 8,000-square-mile Kern County.
Perez got a warm welcome from CSAC Executive Director Matt Cate.
“Supervisor Perez brings a wealth of experience to the job as our president. She has a background in the administration of justice and five years on the Kern County Board. She has been a thoughtful and deliberate member of our officer team and we are grateful to have her expertise as our president,” Cate wrote in a press release.
“We have a lot of big issues to tackle this year, including cannabis regulation, protecting revenue for transportation infrastructure and ensuring counties maintain local flexibility to deliver the essential services that communities rely on. Supervisor Perez will play an invaluable leadership role as we work through these issues in 2018,” he wrote.
Perez, in a speech to the group’s annual convention, called for CSAC members to reject the bitter partisanship that is rampant in politics and government now. Reach out instead to leaders of opposing parties and organizations and seek to better the communities they are sworn to serve, not the party they ascribe to.
Perez pointed out she is a Latina Democrat in Republican Kern County and ticked of a list of conservative leaders in Kern that she’s struggled with and learned from including Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Kern County Taxpayers Association Executive Director Mike Turnipseed and her own husband, Fernando Jara.
“I open with these words today because I have been inspired to learn to communicate more productively with those who do not share my party registration or life experiences. I have not only had to re-wire the way I listen and understand what is being said to me by those on the other side of the political aisle, I have also learned to understand that those on the other side of the political aisle often have incredible insights that add immensely to the discourses surrounding the public policy decisions I have voted on over the last six years,” she said.
Perez said she has learned to listen to the experts, public servants and moderate leaders more than she does “to the random musings of ideologues” who would rather fight with those who don’t agree with them than compromise in pursuit of real progress.
“Is this harsh? I don’t think so. Real people are affected by the way we make decisions,” Perez said. “When we refuse to be at the table with each other, prioritizing political revenge over civil cooperation, we injure those who have entrusted us with their wellbeing. It is my honest belief that we have an obligation to keep the faces of the community in mind during any discussion that influences or obstructs the capacity of our communities to thrive.”
She quoted a portion of President George Washington’s 1796 farewell address which called “The alternate domination of one faction over another ... a frightful despotism.”
That factionalism, Perez argued, is the biggest threat to the United States and to CSAC.
“I look forward to working with all of you. We will not always agree with each other. We may not always get exactly what we want, but collectively we can find a path that creates the flourishing communities we all so desperately desire,” Perez said.