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SAN DIEGO -- Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez may be nowhere more popular than at a labor caucus meeting at a Democratic convention, and so it was that he received a standing ovation here this afternoon and tried out a one-liner on the crowd.

"This year you've seen Mitt Romney and others talk about the fact that corporations are people," the former labor organizer said. "I won't believe corporations are people until Texas executes one of them."

Labor interests are a major force in the California Democratic Party, and as party activists arrived in San Diego today for their annual convention, Pérez said defeating a so-called "paycheck protection" measure is more important than any candidate election this year.

The ballot initiative would block unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Supporters of the initiative say it will curb the influence of special interests in elections, while labor unions say it is a targeted effort to reduce their political clout. Labor unions spent millions of dollars helping Gov. Jerry Brown defeat billionaire Meg Whitman in the 2010 election.

"This ballot measure is a fraud, it's phony and it's a lie," said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. "Imagine, just for a moment, a California where your mouths were taped the next time a Meg Whitman ran for governor."

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said Democrats will "fight like hell" to defeat the measure.

"Thank you, brothers and sisters," he said. "It is good to be in the house of labor."



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