When Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) passes the torch to Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) at the end of June, he’ll be the second longest-serving Speaker in state history, behind Willie Brown.
The Assembly Speaker wields enormous influence over state spending and policy. They control which bills get heard on the Assembly floor, appoint lawmakers to committees, and have a voice in determining how California’s tax dollars will be spent.
Before he leaves the Speaker’s office this summer, Rendon will work with Governor Gavin Newsom and other legislative leaders to try to fill a projected budget deficit.
Rendon sat down with CapRadio Politics Reporter Nicole Nixon to discuss the transition, his priorities for the current legislative session and why he wants to pull from California’s $22 billion rainy day fund – against the recommendation of the Legislative Analyst’s Office – to help patch the shortfall.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Nicole Nixon: The state is looking at a budget deficit. You talk about climate, transit. Those are some of the things looking at cuts under the budget proposed by the governor. And you've hinted at maybe dipping into the rainy day fund to fill that deficit, against the advice of your Legislative Analyst and the Department of Finance. Why dip into the rainy day fund?
Anthony Rendon: I've more than hinted at it, I think we have to. That's why it's there. We shouldn't create things under certain auspices and then not do them. That's dishonest.
I came to elected office after running early childhood education programs for 15-20 years. We cut $1.2 billion in early childhood education. I saw the impact that that had on families. I saw the impact that that had on kids. That will repeat itself if we cut programs and services.
I talked about climate change as an existential threat. That's real, and that's what the rainy day fund is for. It's to avoid those types of cuts.
There have been these three horrific mass shootings in the state recently, in Tulare County, in Monterey Park and in Half Moon Bay. California has some of the strictest gun laws, but we still see these happen. What proposals in the legislature are you looking at? What’s on the table for this year?
It's early in the year. We've seen in these horrific shootings, a lot of the guns were illegal or manufactured at home. And I think that points to a couple of things: I'm proud of what we've done around gun control in California. Maybe six, seven years ago, we had [some] of the toughest anti-gun bills in the history of this country. I think Jerry Brown signed three of those five.
But I think a lot of what we’ve seen points not only to making sure that we do more, but also toward mental health. There are mental health issues that are plaguing us on the streets, mental health issues that are keeping people at home who we don't see. And I think [those issues] certainly play a part in a lot of the mass shootings.
One thing that's been proposed in recent years is a tax on firearms. Is that something you would support?
The governor has a proposal to impose profit ceilings on big oil companies. Where are you on that?
The Governor's office visited our caucus, including his chief of staff, and had a conversation. But we're going to start our hearings and make sure that we're involved in that process. I always want to see more specifics. In theory, I'm supportive of that, but with that particular proposal, we want to sort of fill in the blanks and see specifics.
It will get a hearing?
You have two more years in your term here at the Capitol, but you're coming up on the end of your time as speaker. What is your proudest accomplishment during your time as leader of the California Assembly?
My class and I ushered in a new era of 12-year term limits. People who could be here for more than a decade. And we really did a good job of taking back the reins of power, particularly from the third house and certainly from staff.
And when you say the ‘third house,’ you're talking about lobbyists.
Yeah, absolutely. It's a shift I think has the potential to have a positive impact on the state for a really long time to come. And at a time when democracy has been threatened throughout the world, I think having members who are empowered and knowledgeable is the best thing we could ask for.
What do you want to accomplish before you move out of this office at the end of June?
We need to do a lot on climate change. I think a lot of stuff, particularly around transit, climate change, is particularly important. The big thing hanging over us — hanging over everybody — is the budget. And $25-26 billion in the hole right now is not a good thing, so that has the potential to inform every decision we make. But certainly climate change is an existential threat to civilization itself and we need to make sure we're doing as much as we can.
Speakers don't usually run a lot of bills, but as you're transitioning out of this role and you have time left in the assembly, is there anything you want to see through before you leave office at the end of 2024? Any bills you're looking at running after you leave this role?
We've been exceptionally busy with orientation and those types of things with new members. I do plan on running bills. What I'm going to do specifically at this point? Nothing's been introduced. I obviously have a tremendous interest in child care, tremendous interest and revitalization of the Los Angeles River, which is important to my district. But there's other issues around guns, climate change. So we'll figure out a legislative package soon enough.
Are you thinking about what's next for you after 2024 when you hit your term limit?
No, I should. I probably should have been doing that for the past ten years. But I've never really planned ahead and things have always seemed to work out for me. I've gone from academia to the nonprofit sector to the arts to politics. I'll do something.
The process to pick your successor kicked off last year. It was this very tense and drawn out process. Assembly member Robert Rivas was chosen as the successor and will take over in July. Do you think that that tense process will impact the ability of your caucus to get things done this year?
No, absolutely not. Things have been tense since I got here. I remember my freshman year thinking like, ‘holy crap, this place is crazy.’ But it's a representative democracy. The fissures that exist within the caucus, whether they're related to ideology or personality, are the same things you see anywhere else. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Democracy is exceptionally messy. That's the nature of it. So, no, I don't think it will.
Why do you think it got so intense?
There’s a lot at stake. There's a lot at stake in terms of leadership and all of that. And the timing was very unusual, prior to a big election and a stated desire to make sure that the incoming class wasn't involved in the decision. I think there were a lot of people who had very strong feelings about the timing and the way it was done.
Why plan [the transition to a new Speaker] out six months in advance?
That's the way it's normally done. My changeover with Toni Atkins was September to March, so essentially the same six month timeline.
Did you feel strongly about finishing out this budget cycle or…?
There's always something to do.The budget is something I feel strongly about doing, but I feel strongly about doing policy, too. I'm very concerned about this budget. And I think it's important that we work closely with the pro tem and the governor to figure it out in a way that hurts the fewest Californians.