New California Assembly speaker pledges to tackle state’s biggest issues
Jun 30, 2023, 2:29 PM
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Assemblymember Robert Rivas was sworn in Friday as the next speaker of California’s state Assembly, becoming the first lawmaker from a rural district to hold the powerful office in the state’s modern history.
Rivas, a 43-year-old Democrat representing the agricultural Central Coast area, replaces former a monthslong power struggle last year. Rendon, the second-longest serving speaker in state history, terms out at the end of 2024 after serving as the California lower house’s leader the last seven years.
Rivas, who had a quick rise to power, pledged to lead with “urgency and unity.” At his inaugural ceremony in the Capitol, he said his priorities are to tackle the state’s housing and homelessness crisis, improve public services and infrastructure and combat climate change. Democrats hold more than three-quarters of the Assembly’s 80 seats.
“California is still the greatest state in the union,” Rivas said Friday. “But if we in this room do not act and do not act with greater urgency, it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here. I feel, and I know that you all do, too, a great sense of responsibility because we are the ones who can keep the door open for the next generation.”
His inaugural ceremony drew a wide-ranging crowd of political bigwigs, from U.S. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Labor Federation Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.
Republican Assembly Leader James Gallagher said he appreciates Rivas’ background and understanding of agricultural issues.
“His words today about unity and respecting everybody’s differing viewpoints give me hope that we can work together to restore the California dream,” he said.
At the ceremony Friday, Rivas honored his 90-year-old grandmother, his mother, civil rights icon Dolores Huert and nearly two dozen farmworkers from his district, saying they were his inspiration to become a lawmaker. Rivas’ extended family, along with dozens of family friends from his hometown, Hollister, were also in attendance Friday, teeming with pride and emotion.
The second-term lawmaker was largely unknown until he successfully mounted a leadership challenge to Rendon last November. Rendon, who is still unhappy about how things unfolded, refused to step down when Rivas first made a play for the top leadership post earlier last year. The intraparty fighting dragged on for six months until Rivas and his allies forced a vote among Assembly Democrats, who chose him as the next leader.
Inspired by his grandfather, a Mexican immigrant who organized for fellow farmworkers alongside Huerta with United Farm Workers, Rivas has spent his political career championing farmworker protections. In 2019, as a freshman lawmaker, Rivas successfully led a landmark bill to streamline farmworker housing permits.
That helped propel him to be appointed to chair the Assembly Agriculture Committee, overseeing the state’s $50 billion agriculture industry. As chair, Rivas embarked on a statewide agricultural tour, an effort that committee members continue to praise.
Prior to his time at the Capitol, Rivas served as a county supervisor in San Benito for eight years, where he made his name by standing in opposition of the oil industry and supporting local measures against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“Robert Rivas is the embodiment of the California Dream,” Huerta said in a statement. “Rising from farmworker housing to becoming Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert is an ally to workers and underserved communities and will continue to be a champion for all Californians.”