The California Assembly's Democratic Caucus is unanimously behind the nomination of Assemblyman John Perez, an openly gay Latino Democrat from Los Angeles, to become the state's next Assembly speaker.

The caucus decided on Perez, 40, at a Thursday meeting after Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, another Latino leader, agreed to step aside. De Leon was widely believed to be the front runner for the position, but failed to gain sufficient support from key Democrats.

Perez's ascension comes during his first term, an unusually fast rise that has caught many off guard.

“I can tell you he's ready,” Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat from Baldwin Vista, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He doesn't walk into this job as if this is the first thing he's ever done – he has decades of experience serving in many leadership capacities.”

Gay activists praised the selection, calling it an historic opportunity.

“He will be an outstanding steward for California as Speaker, ably guiding our state through the many challenges that lie ahead,” Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the state's largest gay rights advocate, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Assemblymember Perez whose steadfast commitment to justice has resulted in significant gains not only for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community members but for all Californians.”

The full Assembly is expected to vote in January. But united behind a single candidate, Democrats, who hold a large majority in the chamber, do not need GOP support.

Perez will make history as the state's first openly gay Assembly speaker and will become one of the nation's most powerful and visible gay politicians.