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California Assembly elects new leader after showdown over speaker post

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SACRAMENTO — 

California Democrats voted in a new leader in the state Assembly on Thursday, selecting San Benito County Assemblyman Robert Rivas after a chaotic hours-long power struggle over one of the top political positions in the state.

Rivas, 42, will replace Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) in June, marking an end to months of jockeying in the lower house of the state Legislature. Rendon, whose seven years as speaker marked the longest tenure since the 1990s, will term out of office in 2024.

“I’m excited to just finally get this vote on the books,” Rivas (D-Hollister) joked after the announcement. “We will begin this process united.”

Rendon and Rivas clashed this year when Rivas said he had secured the votes to become speaker, which Rendon acknowledged, only for there to be no timeline for the transition.

Leadership changes in the Legislature are often negotiated in private before being made public in a statement by the outgoing and incoming leaders. A formal vote typically takes place when a new legislative session convenes, which this year will be Dec. 5.

“I’m pleased to retain my colleagues’ support to continue as Speaker of the California Assembly and leader of our Democratic Caucus,” Rendon said in a statement. “I will continue working for the Californians who need it most, and keep putting power in the hands of my members, especially those who are underrepresented.”

With a massive turnover among lawmakers in the Assembly, the general election Tuesday stood to erode or cement Rivas’ support ahead of a caucus meeting Thursday and a formal vote Dec. 5.

Though Rivas’ camp entered Thursday’s leadership vote assured, the meeting became a chaotic scramble for power, with questions about parliamentary procedure and a new name for speaker briefly pushed forward: Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), numerous sources told The Times. Low previously angered Rendon by trying to make a run for speaker last year.

Rendon’s laid-back personality and hands-off management style have caused some to criticize him as not being involved enough in shepherding legislation through the Assembly. He instead empowered his committee chairs. Rivas’ ascent next year is likely to mean a shakeup among key Assembly positions, including those on committees that determine which bills are passed each year.

Rivas was elected to the Assembly in 2018 after serving eight years on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. The Latino lawmaker was raised by his single mother and grandparents in Paicines, where his grandfather was a farmworker who joined United Farm Workers in fighting for fair pay.

Rivas’ Assembly district encompasses Paicines, along with Big Sur, Gilroy, Salinas, Watsonville and other Central Coast communities.

Times staff writers Taryn Luna and Mackenzie Mays contributed to this report.

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