Anthony Rendon, who took the Assembly speaker’s gavel on Monday, offers great promise and potential for stability in a house that has been weakened by term limits.
Under the ill-conceived voter-approved term limits initiative of 1990, Assembly members had been limited to six years. In 2012, voters altered the law to permit legislators to serve up to 12 years in either the Assembly or Senate. Having been elected in 2012, Rendon can serve until 2024.
So long as voters re-elect him, Democrats retain control of the Assembly and he keeps their confidence, Rendon can serve as many as eight years as speaker, which would allow him to restore continuity and institutional memory to the benefit of the legislative branch and the state.
Beyond providing much needed stability, Rendon, who took over from Toni Atkins, seems to have the passion to use government to help lift up people most in need.
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In an interview with a Sacramento Bee editorial board member, Rendon said he intends to focus on issues of poverty, affordable housing and helping the middle class by reversing organized labor losses in the private sector, all worthwhile undertakings.
Rendon’s Los Angeles-area district is one of the poorest and most polluted in the state. That clearly weighs on him. It also has produced more than its share of crooks – he counts officials from five cities in his district who are in prison. That troubles him.
As speaker, he can influence any piece of legislation. And with Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, Rendon will be among the three main negotiators on any budget deal.
But breaking from practices of recent leaders, Rendon has pledged to carry no legislation this year, leaving that to the 79 other members. He will focus on managing the house and encouraging members to conduct oversight hearings.
Rendon has shown an interest in California’s most important issue, water, having proposed an ambitious piece of water legislation in his first year in office, and helping negotiate the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014.
Not many newbies tackle water, preferring instead to focus on quick hits that will attract attention back home. More recently, he pushed legislation that would overhaul the calcified California Public Utilities Commission.
Rendon, who has a doctorate in political theory, will need to practice his share of realpolitik. Although Democrats are in no danger of losing control of the Assembly, any speaker’s first job is to maintain a majority by raising money and trying to gain more seats. He figures at least four seats of the 80 Assembly seats will be in play in November, more depending on how politics play out in this weird election year.
Rendon is thoughtful, seems policy-driven and doesn’t appear to be caught up in the accoutrements of office. All that is good. If nothing else, he can end the constant churn among leaders that has weakened the Assembly. That’d be no small contribution.