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Meet California's New Assembly Speaker: Anthony Rendon

The California Assembly swore in a new speaker Monday who pledged to make poverty reduction, increased government oversight and voter turnout his key priorities.

By Melody Gutierrez

The California Assembly swore in a new speaker Monday who pledged to make poverty reduction, increased government oversight and voter turnout his key priorities.

Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from the Los Angeles County city of Paramount, was formally sworn in to replace Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and becomes the first legislative leader in 20 years who could remain in a top position for an extended duration.

Lawmakers elected after 2011 have the ability to serve 12 years in one house, under term limit changes adopted by voters in 2012. Under the old system, lawmakers could serve eight years in the Senate and six years in the Assembly. That means Rendon, who won't term out until 2024, could lead the Assembly for eight years with the support of his party.

"Otherwise you have all these speakers of two years, two years, two years, and by the time they know what they are doing, some other guy is biting at their ass," said John Burton, a former Senate president pro tem who is now chairman of the state Democratic Party.

In the past 20 years, there have been 11 Assembly speakers. In the 20 years before that, there were just two: Willie Brown and the late Leo McCarthy, both San Francisco institutions.

Rendon, 48, said term limits created in 1990 created a volatility in leadership that allowed for the Legislature to concede much of its power to the executive branch. He said the change in term limits gives lawmakers the ability to do more during their time in office.

"Voters put their faith in us to do more and to do better," he said.

Rendon is regarded as a low-key leader who prefers to work behind the scenes. He said he will not author any bills, instead preferring to support his colleagues with their legislation. The new speaker said he supports ballot measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and extend temporary taxes under Proposition 30.

He's also been a critic of the embattled California Public Utilities Commission, which he said needs to be held accountable to ratepayers.

"Despite not authoring legislation myself, I will continue fighting for the needs of my district and for what I believe in," Rendon said.

Growing up, Rendon said he was a terrible student who benefited from the state's social safety nets, like food stamps, English as a second language programs, affirmative action and an affordable college education. He worked his way through community college and Cal State Fullerton with graveyard shifts at factories and warehouses, he said. On Monday, he thanked his wife, Annie Lam, the daughter of immigrants who herself worked in the fields picking fruit while in high school.

"Neither Annie nor I was born with much, but we worked hard, and somehow we ended up here," Rendon said.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said to much applause that for the first time in the state's history, both houses of the Legislature will be led by Latinos. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon took office in 2014.

Rendon's ascent marks the second time in recent decades that both the Assembly and Senate are led by Southern California Democrats. De Leon is from Los Angeles.

The last time both houses were led by either two Northern or two Southern Californians was in 1994-96 when Brown led the Assembly and Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, led the Senate.

Before that, both houses were led by Southern California Democrats from 1971 to 1974 when Speaker Bob Moretti of Van Nuys led the Assembly and President Pro Tem James Mills of San Diego led the Senate.

"I think geography is relevant, but I also think it's overrated," said former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "The thing about leadership is regardless of where you are in the state, you have to be conscious of the needs of everyone in the state."

(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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