An unusually lengthy and tumultuous battle for energy within the California Capitol lastly got here to an finish Friday as Robert Rivas was sworn in as speaker of the Meeting, claiming some of the influential positions in state politics greater than a yr after he first tried to safe the gavel.
Rivas, a Democrat from Hollister, vowed to usher in a brand new period of unity following a interval during which Democrats had been bitterly divided over the Meeting management, inflicting a way of chaos to fester within the decrease home.
“We should work with urgency and unity — unity that’s backed by mutual belief and respect,” Rivas mentioned in his inaugural speech. “As we speak I pledge to you to do no matter I can to bolster these values. This method will permit us to make measurable progress on probably the most vital points dealing with Californians, and it’ll present the remainder of the nation that progressive authorities works.”
Rivas highlighted his household’s immigrant roots in his speech, telling the story of his grandfather, Servando Flores, who left Mexico for the fertile fields of California. Flores began off choosing grapes, joined the United Farm Staff motion to battle for a union contract, and have become a winery mechanic.
“My household and I, we grew up in farmworker housing, and immediately I stand earlier than you as a speaker of the California state Meeting,” Rivas mentioned to loud applause within the Meeting chamber. “That’s the California Dream.”
Representing an agricultural swath of Central California wealthy with strawberry and lettuce fields, Rivas turns into the primary speaker in a era to hail from a rural area. Seven of the final eight audio system had been from Los Angeles; the opposite one was from San Diego.
Rivas “symbolizes the hopes and goals of all those that toil immediately in our agricultural fields all through California, that because of the exhausting work and sacrifices of our dad and mom and grandparents, the following era may attain the best locations within the California Legislature,” mentioned Luis Alejo, a supervisor from Monterey County, which lies in Rivas’ district.
Rivas first tried to nab the gavel from then-Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) in Could of 2022. However Rendon insisted that the new crop of Meeting members who could be elected that fall ought to determine the speakership. The standoff led to protracted closed-door negotiations and a deep division between Rendon supporters and people rallying behind Rivas.
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On paper, the 2 males don’t seem very totally different — each are Latino Democrats and Gen X grandsons of Mexican immigrants. Each males have help from a spread of reasonable and progressive members of their caucus. The rift was extra about management fashion than political variations.
Rivas’ supporters criticized Rendon’s administration of the Meeting and believed he was clutching on to energy regardless of having simply two years left in workplace earlier than time period limits would drive him out. They noticed Rivas as a frontrunner for the long run.
Rendon’s supporters feared Rivas could be influenced by his brother Rick Rivas’ political connections. Rick Rivas is a vice chairman of the American Beverage Assn., which lobbies for the soda business, and has served as a political advisor to Govern for California, a donor network largely made up of Bay Space enterprise capitalists that seeks to counter the sway that public worker unions have within the Legislature.
The feud spilled into the 2022 election, with Rivas supporters pooling donations right into a political motion committee to help candidates they hoped would help Rivas for speaker. Rivas traveled the state to stump for them, one thing typically executed by the speaker.
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Days after the November election, Meeting Democrats finalized a plan for Rendon to go the speaker’s gavel to Rivas on June 30.
The timing makes Rendon the second-longest serving speaker in California historical past, bested solely by Willie Brown, who famously referred to as himself the “Ayatollah of the Meeting” when he was speaker within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties. However then voters handed a legislation limiting lawmakers to only three two-year phrases within the Meeting (and two four-year phrases within the Senate), resulting in an period of excessive turnover within the speakership.
Voters modified the time period restrict legislation in 2012, the identical yr Rendon was elected, to permit lawmakers to serve as much as six two-year phrases within the Meeting (or three four-year phrases within the Senate). That ushered in a new era of lawmakers who had time to develop extra experience whereas in workplace. Rendon led them with a “decentralized” method that delegated substantial energy to the committee chairs he appointed.
It was a departure from the extra autocratic fashion of prior audio system. As he mirrored on his speakership earlier this week, Rendon mentioned he had put up with a number of stuff, utilizing one other phrase that begins with an “s,” including that possibly he shouldn’t have been so “overly forgiving” to the members who dished it out.
“I don’t all the time know that I used to be as fast to punish as I ought to have,” he mentioned Wednesday throughout an interview with the Public Coverage Institute of California.
Rendon helped Democrats earn main coverage wins, together with rising the minimal wage, strengthening labor protections for gig and farmworkers, launching common preschool and broadening a program to fight local weather change. Lawmakers modified California’s police use-of-force legislation beneath his management, expanded renter protections and cracked down on predatory lending practices.
Rendon’s strongest achievement could have been within the political area, serving to to extend the variety of Democrats within the Meeting. Below his management, Democrats grew to carry three-quarters of the seats, greater than the two-thirds supermajority that permits them to go tax will increase and fast-track laws with none votes from Republicans. The caucus additionally added sufficient women and LGBTQ+ members to help the Legislature break diversity records.
However his legacy additionally contains the chaotic ultimate night time of the 2020 legislative session, when he was publicly lambasted and finally pressured to apologize for making Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) come to the Capitol in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of not too long ago giving start. Wicks’ vote was wanted to assist go a contentious housing measure, however Rendon had rejected her request to vote remotely. So she hauled her new child child to Sacramento, strapped the toddler to her chest and took her spot on the Meeting ground.
Backlash piled on after the housing invoice died later that night time. Rendon was accused of letting the measure languish for hours earlier than bringing it up for a vote, at which level it was too late for the Senate to finalize the measure earlier than a midnight deadline.
Wicks gained national attention as a logo of the plight moms face within the office as a photo of her cradling her baby whereas giving a speech on the Meeting ground went viral. Two years later, she turned considered one of Rivas’ most crucial allies, serving to him put collectively the help essential to develop into speaker.