California AssemblyAssembly Speaker John A. Pérez
When John A. Pérez was sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly in 2010, he celebrated by giving out rubber duckies bearing his name and the Assembly seal. Pérez's collection of hundreds of rubber duckies – from Statue of Liberty duck to firefighter duck – stems from an inside joke that he won’t divulge.
Since then, some business interests that lobby the Legislature have seized on a special way to get into the speaker's good graces: expensive duck gifts.
The California Retailers Association, for example, gave him two Swarovski crystal ducks worth $129 each. (In that price range, the Swarovski duck line ranges from Punk Duck, whose bill is pierced, to Fancy Felicia, who has a sparkly purse.)
The Toy Industry Association, meanwhile, bestowed Pérez with a $322 commemorative box of rubber ducks with an engraved plaque in honor of California Toy Day.
And Compline LLC, a company that lobbies the Capitol on workers' compensation issues, gave Pérez $428 worth of duck pins, according to lobbying records. That’s $8 over the annual gift limit to legislators, but probably not enough to ruffle feathers at the Fair Political Practices Commission, especially since Pérez is generous with the pins, handing them out to staff and visitors.
Pérez doesn't receive only duck-related presents. Last year, AT&T gave him two tickets to see the "Glee" concert at Power Balance Pavilion, worth $279. Family Winemakers of California, meanwhile, gave Pérez $416 worth of wine. But his flock of ducks holds a special place.
"He is quite fond of his rubber duck collection," said John Vigna, Pérez's spokesman. "The fact that it’s now gotten to this point is part of the joke."
Vigna said even he doesn't know the original joke, which dates back to Pérez's work for the United Food & Commercial Workers union.
"It started off as an office thing with some co-workers, and it took on a life of its own," Vigna said.
After Pérez, D-Los Angeles, was elected to the Assembly in 2008, staff members wanted to know the duck story. But Pérez said he wouldn't quack until his last day in office.
"Everybody wants to know, and I think he’s just building up the suspense a little," Vigna said.
At a meeting with The Sacramento Bee's Capitol reporters shortly after becoming speaker, Pérez joked that he wouldn't "duck the duck question" and then began singing the "Sesame Street" song about rubber duckies. But in the end, Pérez kept his beak shut about his inside joke.
Last June, the Toy Industry Association held its first California Toy Day to connect toy companies with state legislators. Pérez gave a keynote address, welcoming the industry representatives. The association gave Pérez an engraved box of ducks, including one wearing an Uncle Sam hat.
"Since we represent toymakers, it was a cute connection for us," said Joe Gregorich, the association's director of state government affairs.
"I’ve worked in and around the Capitol for a number of years, and it’s one of those things," he said. "If you’ve ever stepped foot in the speaker's office, you’ve seen this collection of rubber duckies."
Sometimes, when Pérez spots a child wandering the Capitol corridors on a tour, the speaker will grab one of his extra ducklings and give it away. But as long as Pérez remains in power, it seems, his flock will keep growing.