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Assembly Speaker Rendon pitches the big tent

Newly installed Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon talks to reporters. (Photo: Speaker's office)

New Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon doesn’t believe the emergence of a less-liberal, more pro-business wing of his big Democratic caucus is going to set off a high-visibility war among Democrats.

“I don’t know if the party has ever been monolithic,” Rendon said in a telephone interview.  “We’ve always been a big-tent party, with a diversity of viewpoints reflecting the diversity of California.”

“Why would we want to make te very first action in this new era an empty partisan exercise?” — Chad Mayes

Rendon’s placid view of his caucus’s inner workings contrasts with that of some media observers, who have a less-sunny view.

“I think this is a very difficult Democratic caucus to lead,” John Myers observed recently in the Los Angeles Times.  “Being a Democrat isn’t what it used to mean in Sacramento and the state Capitol.”

Still, there is evidence that rancor may be ebbing, at least to some degree, within the ranks of Assembly members.  At Rendon’s request, Republican Minority Leader Chad Mayes nominated Democrat Rendon for speaker on Jan. 11, after thinking it over for a day.

After pointing out that there are sharp and continuing policy differences between Assembly Republicans and Democrats, Mayes went on to deliver a nominating speech that was a model of bipartisan sweetness and light:

“We are about to begin a new chapter in the history of the Assembly,” he intoned.  “Why would we want to make te very first action in this new era an empty partisan exercise?”

Rendon, 48, was sworn into office on March 7.

“Chad and I are very good friends,” Rendon said.  “As a matter of fact, we had a drink last night, and we had a productive conversation about poverty.”

“We understand we’re in the minority,” Mayes said in a telephone interview.  “But I’m hearing from some Democrats on things such as water, education, public safety — that they’re williing to work with us.”

While Democrats have a “decent enough chance” of gaining a supermajority, that’s not his chief goal this November, Rendon insists.

Asked if the vitriol so evident in national Republican presidential politics might eventually spill over into what Rendon and Mayes would like to style as an emerging Era of Good Feeling, Mayes was politic:  “I would hope not,” he said.  “Look, when you’re nasty on radio or TV — getting free press — it doesn’t accomplish much.”

Rendon’s Democrats currently hold a 52-28 majority in the 80-member Assembly.  To achieve the 54 votes needed to achieve a two-thirds supermajority, Rendon would have to engineer the addition of two seats to their total.  Two-thirds votes are needed for urgency measures and appropriation bills.

While Democrats have a “decent enough chance” of gaining a supermajority, that’s not his chief goal this November, Rendon insists.

“Our first priority is protecting our incumbents,” he says.  Among other things, that involves the dicey business of protecting Inland Empire incumbent Democrat Cheryl Brown in the 47th Assembly District against a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat, environmentally oriented Eloise Reyes.  The lone Republican in the June 7 primary is Aissa Chanel Sanchez.  The district has a heavy Latino presence.

Mayes says “It would be fantastic if we could pick up one or two seats,” but he doesn’t appear to hold out much hope for that, concentrating instead on protecting his 28 Republicans.

Rendon has also signaled that he is not in lockstep Gov. Jerry Brown.  He has reservations about Brown’s plans for two freeway-size Delta tunnels to transport water southward.

Winning the speakership demonstrates that Rendon has political chops, but perhaps the best example of his diplomatic talents came in 2014, when he brokered the $7.2 billion water bond that the Legislature, and then the electorate, approved that November.  That accomplishmnent came when Rendon  was in his first term.  (He is only in his second term now.)  Getting agreement on the issue involved 16 public hearings up and down the state, “resulting in a deal with no earmarks or backroom deals,” Rendon brags in his official biography.

“The water bond was the ultimate bipartisan effort,” Rendon says.

Rendon has also signaled that he is not in lockstep Gov. Jerry Brown.  He has reservations about Brown’s plans for two freeway-size Delta tunnels to transport water southward.  And although he has supported Brown’s high-speed rail proposal, he worries about a routing change that would run the train from Bakersfield to San Jose instead of the original plan from Fresno

“I am concerned by the High Speed Rail Authority’s change to starting construction in Northern California. This project is meant to connect the south to the north – neglecting the south would be unacceptable,” he said in a prepared statement.

Anyone reading Rendon’s resume cannot help but come to a consensus conclusion:  Classic Liberal.  He led Plaza de la Raza Child Development Services, offering medical and social services to children in Los Angeles County, and before that was the executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters from 2008-2009.  Once in the Assembly, he authored a statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition.  From 2001 until 2008, he was an adjunct professor of political science and criminal justice at Cal State Fullerton.  He has a Ph. D. from UC Riverside.  Rendon and his wife Annie live in Paramount, a city with about 50,000 south of Downey and north of Lakewood.

Unlike his immediate predecessors, Rendon may enjoy a relatively lengthy speakership.  He is not termed out until 2024.  The political world holds many surprises, however, and Rendon could face a challenge from a fellow Democrat, as did Speakers Willie Brown and Leo McCarthy.

Whether there is indeed a new era in the Assembly is an open question.  But at least initially, Rendon and Mayes seem eager to make it happen.

Ed’s Note: Chuck McFadden is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly.

 


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