After five months of backroom wrangling and another six-hour meeting behind closed doors, California Assembly Democrats today approved a protracted transition that will see Robert Rivas succeed Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon next summer.
Rivas, a Hollister Democrat, emerging from a ballroom at the Sacramento Convention Center, said the Democratic caucus voted unanimously to keep Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, as speaker through the end of June, when Rivas is finally set to take on the influential role Oversight of the lower house of the legislature.
“We have such a large parliamentary group here in Parliament. Excited that we had the opportunity to walk away from there together,” said Rivas. “This was about unity. It was about bringing our group together to plan for the future.”
Rivas originally challenged Rendon for the speakership, one of the most powerful positions at the state Capitol, in late May, but was blocked during a tense six-hour caucus meeting at which Rendon refused to step down and Rivas was unable to muster enough support to compel him out.
Rendon has been speaker since early 2016, the longest reign since the 1990s, when California voters passed term limits. It will expire in 2024.
Assembly Democrats are now expected to vote on Dec. 5, the first day of the new legislative session, to formally approve the transition plan. Because they hold a majority of seats in the chamber, they don’t need Republican votes to elect a speaker.
Rivas, who was first elected in 2018, would become speaker on June 30 – following the completion of the state budget process and more than a year after Rivas first announced he had enough support to take over as assembly leader.
Despite being flanked by dozens of colleagues who rode down an escalator together and cheered at the end of tonight’s meeting, Rivas was notably unaccompanied by Rendon, who did not appear publicly after the vote.
“I will continue to work for Californians who need it most and continue to put power in the hands of my members, particularly those who are underrepresented,” Rendon said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Member of Parliament Rivas in anticipation of a smooth transition in 2023. Now is the time to work together for California.”
The two faced each other throughout the summer and fell in a battle for influence within the Assembly faction, particularly among candidates for an unusually large number of open seats in that election.
Rivas took the extraordinary step of establishing a political action committee outside of the Democratic Party apparatus, raising money from 19 of his fellow congregants and channeling about $900,000 into more than a dozen races across the state. The committee, essentially a competitor to the traditional Democratic Assembly campaign account controlled by Rendon, increased the strain on many of Rendon’s supporters.
But the caucus – which a Rendon spokesman said numbered 63 people at Thursday’s meeting, including some whose races remain too close to call two days after voting ended – aimed to project unity, as tonight finally a solution to the drama emerged.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat who was a top Rendon ally, stood alongside an emotional Rivas as the speaker-designate recounted his rise from the son of farm workers at the height of California politics.
“Time heals wounds,” McCarty said. “We have a job to do.”
Member of Parliament Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat who supported Rivas, said many supported the compromise because they didn’t want the speakership battle to be a distraction in the new legislative session, which will be held in conjunction with a special session called by Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering a “windfall tax” on oil companies to help struggling Californians.
“We have to leave our domestic politics behind and get down to political work,” said Gabriel. “That was a strong motivating factor for many.”
Alexei Koseff is a reporter at CalMatters. CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this story.