California Assembly Speaker Rendon: The exit interview
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As of Friday, Anthony Rendon will no longer be the speaker of the California Assembly — the culmination of a messy and protracted handover of power to Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas from Salinas.
On his way out, the Lakewood Democrat has been conducting a very public HR exit interview of sorts — reflecting openly on his seven years serving in the high-ranking role as he steered the lower house through a pandemic, a #MeToo reckoning and the Donald Trump presidency.
He has been pointed in his criticism of politicians and of politics in general. That continued as his farewell tour took him Wednesday to a Public Policy Institute of California luncheon.
- Rendon: “If we’re not serious now about the existential questions, we never will be…. I have a four-year-old daughter. Will she live to be 25? I don’t know. The way the planet is trending I’m not sure. Will we have democracy in this country in two, three years? I don’t know. That is a question that is unanswered. Will California be part of a 50-state transcontinental country in two years? I don’t know.”
Rendon also touched on other topics:
On his proudest achievement: Though he acknowledged it was a “very local issue,” Rendon cited the redevelopment of the lower Los Angeles River. “When I flew into LAX my freshman year, and seeing the redevelopment of the L.A. River on the Los Angeles side and all the cool stuff that was happening… and then the plane moved over to my district and there was nothing there. That’s part of the California story.”
On the homelessness crisis: “Politicians, we do press conferences and say we solved things. These problems take generations to create and it’ll take a long time to resolve…. Anybody who tells you we’ve made progress is lying.”
On gun violence: “The extent to which we’re accepting of it, or explain it away as a political issue rather than a moral issue, is grotesque and a sign of a societal illness…. I’m not waiting for anybody in D.C. to do anything. I don’t have any faith they will, they’re not going to. We’re on our own and that’s unfortunate, but we’ll do it.”
On what he would have done differently: Rendon said that he “put up with a lot of s–t,” like any manager. “I removed some chairs from people and those types of things. But there’s a lot of game playing politics and there’s a lot of game playing in the world… I always wanted to be forgiving and provide people with opportunities for redemption. And I don’t always know that I was quick to punish as I should have. Pretty honest answer, wasn’t it?”
On the pandemic: “I don’t know if we did the right thing to shut down the Legislature to be honest, and I think we’re still paying the price for it.”
He admitted that he continued going to the Capitol, even during the shutdown. “I thought it was very important, either symbolically or otherwise, that we were in the building…. Every form of government has an executive branch. But only democracies have a Legislature. I thought it was important to physically be there, even if nobody knew.”
If you’re a Rendon fan, don’t fret: He’s not leaving politics. He’ll still be a legislator until he terms out in 2024 and just this week he confirmed he plans to run for state treasurer in 2026.
I asked him what about that job interested him. He wasn’t thrilled, apparently (“career questions are so dull”). But he said that by protecting the state’s finances, he could help Californians who depend on state programs and services — “as unsexy as that sounds.”
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 CA reparations reaches milestone
Today, California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force is expected to hold its final meeting and submit its recommendations to the Legislature — a landmark moment in the push to compensate Black Californians for the legacy of slavery.
But from that point, it’s up to lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom when and how to put any of the recommendations into effect, especially any cash payments to eligible people. And those decisions may not happen until next year.
Today’s events are sure to focus even more attention on the task force and issue. But what does “reparations” really mean?
The explainer tackles the definition of reparation programs, the many forms they can take and what it means for them to be effective. It also dives into California’s reparations task force specifically and why its extensive work, more than two years in the making, will likely be used as a framework for other states.
Many critics of reparations in the state also argue that California was never officially a slave state. While this is true, the explainer covers how hundreds of enslaved people were brought to California and the state’s history, including upholding fugitive slave laws.
And throughout our coverage, CalMatters reporters go over the feasibility of reparations: The chances of it actually happening in California, who would be eligible, where the money would come from and the possibility of other marginalized groups seeking reparations.
Check out all this and more in our explainer.
Reparations calculator: CalMatters has created an interactive tool to estimate how much someone might be owed in reparations for slavery and racism. Look it up here, watch a TikTok about it, see it on Instagram and read the full story from Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team.
2 Pre-holiday rush at the Capitol
Legislators aren’t just putting the final touches on the state budget as they hustle before the long Fourth of July weekend. They’re busy working on other issues as they move closer to the next big deadline: July 14 is the last day for bills that have passed their initial house to get through policy committees in the second house. After that, the Legislature goes on summer recess until Aug. 14.
A quick rundown:
Infrastructure streamlining: These bills to accelerate lawsuits that slow down major projects were the subject of intense negotiations between Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders leading up to the budget agreement. But CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports that the final package is a rarity: A compromise that works for environmental groups on one side and water agencies and businesses on the other.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and others who initially objected to Newsom’s proposals now support the revised changes to the California Environmental Quality Act. But the bills haven’t been watered down so much to lose the backing of the Association of California Water Agencies and others. Read more from Rachel about the potential impact of these bills — on solar farms and reservoirs, but also on wildlife.
Renters’ rights: The nascent renters’ caucus unveiled five priority bills on Wednesday, one for each member of the group. Three bills aim to empower renters themselves: Capping security deposits to only one month’s rent, giving more authority to building inspectors to ensure the safety conditions of residences and establishing independent commissions to combat election districts that disenfranchise renters. The other two relate to housing development. One would expand social housing and the other would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to create a plan for building 1.2 million low-income units over a 10-year period.
Affordable housing: Wednesday, the Assembly housing committee approved one bill authored by Sen. Scott Wiener to extend until 2036 a 2017 law that accelerates housing construction in many parts of the state. The panel also moved along the San Francisco Democrat’s bill to make it easier for churches and other religious and faith institutions to build projects on their land — the “YIGBY” (Yes in God’s Backyard) measure.
Workers’ rights: The Assembly labor committee passed a bill to increase paid sick days from three to seven a year. Meanwhile, the largest state workers union plans another event to press for higher wages today, the day before its contract expires.
3 Dollars & cents on fossil fuel divestment
Divesting from certain companies — that is, selling their stocks and holdings — isn’t particularly new to the pension funds of state workers. More than two decades ago, the state divested its holdings from tobacco companies, and it also winded down investments from Iran, Sudan and coal.
But as CalMatters’ economic reporter Grace Gedye explains, a bill to sell off investments in fossil fuel companies from the pension funds of state employees and teachers by 2031 has opponents warning it would simply be a bad financial move.
These pension funds aren’t just small-time bank accounts. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, are the two largest public pension funds in the U.S., covering more than 3 million Californians and their families.
Workers themselves are divided over the matter. Some unions that represent pension recipients, such as the California Faculty Association and the California Nurses Association, support divestments.
- Carlos Davidson, a retired faculty member of San Francisco State University: “It’s about calling (fossil fuel companies) out on their immoral activities, and the political consequences of that, which is weakening them politically, so that politicians stop taking their money and politicians stop doing their bidding.”
But other unions, including the California Professional Firefighters and the State Building and Construction Trades Council oppose divestment, as do leaders of the pension funds.
For one thing, both pension systems are underfunded and divestment would further reduce investment diversification and returns.
- Marcie Frost, CEO of CalPERS: “It’s not just the oil and gas industry. What’s next? Divestment from the airline industry, who uses a lot of oil and gas? Pretty soon you get to the point that (the pension) has nothing to invest in.”
CalPERS holds about $9.4 billion in energy company investments, so would lose about 2% of its assets. CalSTRS would divest an estimated $5.4 billion, or about 1.7%.
Complicating the matter is that the overseers of the pension funds have a constitutional obligation to invest wisely. This “fiduciary duty” is incorporated into the bill, meaning that even if the measure passes, if divesting would violate that duty, then nothing has to change.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The state budget deal dealt a major blow to the contentious Delta tunnel project.
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: L.A. City Council scandals spotlight a decline in political integrity.
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