Black Caucus Welcomes New Assembly Speaker
By Antonio Ray Harvey
California Black Media
The California Assembly ushered in new leadership with the swearing in of Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) at the State Capitol in Sacramento on June 30.
Rivas replaces Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), the outgoing Speaker who presided over the Assembly for the last seven years.
Rivas is the 71st Speaker of the state legislature’s lower house. Known for being a pragmatic coalition builder, Rivas’ rise to power has been steady, colleagues say, since he was first elected to the State Assembly in 2018.
After being sworn in, Rivas informed the 79 other members of the Assembly that his leadership, which he says will benefit everyone, will be characterized by “urgency and unity” as his top priorities.
“California is still the greatest state in the union. But if we in this room do not act and do not act with greater urgency, it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here,” Rivas said. “I feel, and I know that you all do, too, a great sense of responsibility because we are the ones who can keep the door open for the next generation.”
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-11), U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-18), Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass were among politicians, state officials, family members, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) and others were present to witness 43-year-old Rivas take his oath of office.
Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City) said the day celebrates “the new season of leadership under the Honorable Robert Rivas” and all members of the Assembly hearts’ “should be filled with joy” about a man who came from humble beginnings.
“On behalf of the Black caucus, congratulations on your success,” Wilson, the chairperson of the CLBC said to Rivas. “We look forward to working with you on monumental legislation to ensure equity for all and continue dismantling systematic discrimination and racism.”
Civil rights icon and labor rights advocate Dolores Huerta, Rivas’ mother Mayra Flores, his grandmother and about 30 farmworkers from his district were “scattered throughout the chamber” to see the swearing in ceremony along with his wife Christen and their daughter Melina, Rivas said.
The three African American state Constitutional officers Controller Malia Cohen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, and Secretary of State Shirley Weber also attended the proceedings on the Assembly floor.
“California is still the greatest state in the union. But if we in this room do not act and do not act with greater urgency, it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here,” Rivas told the audience. “I feel, and I know that you all do, too, have a great sense of responsibility because we are the ones who can keep the door open for the next generation.”
Raised in Paicines, a small town in San Benito County with a population of under 700 people, Rivas says he watched his grandfather as a child stand side by side with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) as a leader in the movement that won equal rights and fair contracts for farmworkers.
Rivas attended local public schools in San Juan Bautista and Hollister. During his inaugural speech, he mentioned that along with his mother and brother, he once shared a house of “three beds” with five other family members, including his cousins.
In 1988, Rivas’s grandparents, aunts and uncles pooled together money to purchase a small house for $140,000 in the city of Hollister, a community established by ranchers and farmers in 1872.
“It was a massive investment, but it was doable,” Rivas remembered his family’s ambition to own a home of their own. “It gave us a sense that our future was not so precarious and that there was a place for us in in the greatest state in country in California.”
Rivas graduated with a bachelor’s degree in government from California State University Sacramento and later earned a master’s degree in public administration from San Jose State University.
A lifelong resident of the 29th Assembly district, Rivas served two terms on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors prior to becoming an Assemblymember in 2018.
During his first term in the Fall of 2020, Rivas was appointed as the Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and elected as Vice-Chair of the influential Latino Legislative Caucus.
Rivas’ priorities are directed at tackling California’s housing and homelessness crisis, battling climate change, and enhancing public services and infrastructure.
“I am excited for the future of this body and even more excited for the future of this great state with Robert as our speaker,” said Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), who is also a member of the CLBC. “So, congratulations to our speaker designate and my good friend Robert Rivas.”