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7 state lawmakers, including speaker, lack college degree

Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los AngelesCalifornia AssemblySpeaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles

It turns out that Speaker John A. Perez isn’t the only college dropout in the California Legislature.

In data posted yesterday, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that four California lawmakers left college without getting a diploma, and three more never went to college.

The California Legislature’s overall college graduate rate is 89.9 percent, the Chronicle reported.

That’s tops in the nation. New Hampshire’s legislature had the lowest college graduation rate, at 53 percent.

The educational journal said its study explores “a tension that dates back to the founding of the country” – the extent to which the nation’s lawmakers are members of an “educated elite.” 

By and large, they aren’t. The study found that 74.7 percent of state lawmakers had finished college, most of them graduating from public universities close to home. Under statehouse domes, an Ivy League degree is a rarity, according to the report.

California’s Legislature is far better educated than most. Nearly half of the lawmakers have advanced degrees, according to the study.

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UCLA is the No. 1 alma mater of California lawmakers: Thirteen of its graduates are legislators. UC Berkeley is second, with nine graduates. Third is a tie between UC Davis and Harvard University, at seven each.

The Chronicle declined yesterday to make public the names of the other California lawmakers who didn’t finish college “because of the way the data is self-reported,” said reporter Alex Richards.

He said Perez was counted among the lawmakers who attended college but didn’t finish.

California Watch reported last month that for years, official biographies of Perez had stated he was a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Actually, he attended the university for three years but left in 1990 without getting a diploma, according to university records.

After California Watch’s story was posted, Perez, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement saying he took responsibility for the mischaracterization of his education record. “As a candidate and legislator, I have worked to correct the record,” the statement said.

That isn’t enough for Sammy Perricone, a business owner in the tiny industrial city of Vernon, which Perez is seeking to have disbanded and melded back into Los Angeles County.

In letters sent last week to the Los Angeles district attorney and the city Ethics Commission, Perricone asked for a probe of whether Perez had broken any laws by misleading “the public and government agencies” about his background.

Then-Mayor Richard Riordan appointed Perez to the city Human Relations Commission, and current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him to the redevelopment agency. Attached to both mayors’ appointment letters were biographies stating that Perez graduated from UC Berkeley, Perricone noted.

“What put Speaker Perez on my radar is what he’s doing to the city of Vernon,” Perricone said in a phone interview. “We own several businesses in the city of Vernon. I’ve been working with the city of Vernon since I was 10 years old.

“As a business city, it works, and Speaker Perez is looking for money for LA, and he’s looking to Vernon to get it. That’s wrong.”

Perez’s spokesman didn’t respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Vernon is an industrial city where as many as 55,000 people work but fewer than 100 people live. Saying that “60 years of corruption have eaten away at the city’s foundation,” Perez has sponsored a measure to strip Vernon of cityhood. The measure, pending in the state Senate, is bitterly opposed by some unions and business organizations.

Perez’s supporters blamed Vernon interests for California Watch’s post about Perez’s educational background, according to Capitol Weekly.

The topic of Perez and UC Berkeley was the subject of hilarity at a recent celebrity “roast” of Perez in Sacramento. Wrote the LA Times’ Shane Goldmacher:

One of the funnier moments was a video spoofing the “It Gets Better” YouTube video series, which tells gay teenagers that better times are ahead. Three former speakers, including Perez’s cousin, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told Perez that life gets better after the speakership.

“No one cares if you actually graduated from college,” Villaraigosa said, making reference to recent news that Perez allowed biographies that said he graduated from UC Berkeley to go uncorrected.

Wrote Ron Russell of the Bay Area Observer:

GOP Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield got in a dig about the Speaker’s recently-revealed inflated resume: "You know why he supported the Dream Act? Because he once had a dream he graduated from Berkeley.”

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