Sac Bee: California’s new leader talks PUC, politics and daylight saving time

March 01, 2016

By: Jeremy B. White

The Anthony Rendon era is about to begin. A week before the Lakewood Democrat takes over as speaker of the California Assembly, a position he could hold for the better part of the decade, he stopped by The Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau.

Q: Is this is sort of a new era we’re entering where these challenges to Democratic incumbents from other Democrats are just increasingly a thing?

A: This is the way we thought it would be when we extended term limits to 12 years. We were aware people wouldn’t want to wait. … Is it a new phase? Yeah, it’s a new phase. But it’s to be expected.

Q: What did you tell your people to say, ‘Elect me speaker’? What kind of promises did you make?

A: We talked a lot about the dynamics of the institution with respect to the roles of committee chairs, with respect to the roles of speaker. … I was able to wrap up the speakership without promising any member any particular committee chairmanship or position, which I think is fairly unusual.

Q: Empowering (committee) chairs, which has sort of become a theme – does that mean you as a speaker don’t go in and dictate the fate of a bill?

A: I’m not authoring any bills, for example, this year. … I’m not co-authoring any more bills … because I don’t want to give the sense that any bills have sort of been speakerized. I think it’s the job of authors to get their bills out.

If there’s a bill that’s essential to the future of the state, then I think quite frankly it would be irresponsible of me to not weigh in to a high degree, to a strong degree.

Q: You mentioned oversight and the (Public Utilities Commission) … any plans at the moment to continue forward with that issue?

A: This is the first time in my 47 years as a Californian that I actually heard people not obsessed with politics, like me, talk about the Public Utilities Commission. When I go to San Diego people would talk about the PUC relative to San Onofre. When I go to the Bay Area people would talk about the Public Utilities Commission relative to San Bruno. …

A lot of the problems at the PUC are related to the culture of the organization. What was shocking about my conversations with the PUC was the fact that a lot of folks who were there didn’t understand the oversight mechanisms. … They seemed to feel as though those were irrelevant to them.

Q: Do you think it’s possible you could go all the way and completely overhaul it, take away its independence?

A: It’s possible. I don’t know that the governor’s dedicated to that. … I wouldn’t take anything off the table relative to the PUC. … It is and has been a mess.

Q: What kind of landscape do you think Assembly Democrats face going into this (election) cycle?

A: It’s hard to tell how the presidential election has an impact on what happens here. I expect that we’ll pick up at least one seat for sure.

Q: Whose seat?

A: I think we’ll pick up (former Assemblyman) Al Muratsuchi’s seat. … I think we have a good shot at (Republican Assemblywoman) Catharine Baker’s seat.

Q: There’s a good chance you’ll be speaker when a decision is handed down on whether California’s teacher employment laws are constitutional or not. Are you prepared to spearhead potentially sweeping reforms in tenure laws, how teachers are hired and fired?

A: I’m not necessarily willing to spearhead anything. I think it’s the job of the chair of the education committee. … I think there’s a sense among most Californians that our schools need to be improved. I think the vast majority of teachers, like my sister for example, are doing a good job. …

It’s hard to say without looking at a specific bill, but I do think there needs to be a certain degree of change within the system.

Q: Some of those more moderate Democrats supported your speakership bid. Does that complicate passing a more liberal agenda?

A: I finished 120th out of 120 legislators on the California Chamber of Commerce’s scorecard two of the three times I was here, so (moderates) understood my politics then and they understand my politics now. … It wasn’t based on ideology. I think most of those folks trust me.

Q: You’re something of an introvert.

A: I am an introvert. I feel much more comfortable reading a book at home than I do at an event. … I got a Ph.D., which requires that you spend more time in school than anyone ever should, and most of that time is spent alone studying and reading.

Q: There’s a common presumption in the Capitol that bills that tobacco interests dislike … have no chance because the tobacco industry has this invisible but decisive footprint. Do you think that’s true?

A: I believe that so much of what we complain about in this state, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s the lack of an oil excise tax, tobacco tax, etc. … so many of those problems, I believe, lie at the foot of Democrats. … We should make those things happen if we deem they should. The tobacco tax is something that I believe we deemed it should happen.

Q: The bill that our readers have so far expressed the most interest in by far is the bill that affects daylight saving time. Do you know if you have a position?

A: For me, it’s a lot like the designated hitter. I just like both.


CONTACT THE REPORTER: Jeremy B. White / (916) 326-5543 /