Robert Rivas speaks at a press conference following his swearing-in as speaker of the California Assembly.
Robert Rivas speaks at a press conference following his swearing-in as speaker of the California Assembly on Friday, June 30, 2023.
(Christopher Neely / Lookout Santa Cruz)
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Q&A: Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas discusses the immediate future and his hopes for the Central Coast

Lookout’s Christopher Neely sat down with District 29 Assemblymember Robert Rivas for an interview shortly after Rivas was sworn-in to the powerful position of Speaker of the California Assembly.

After getting sworn in and giving a forceful speech about the legislature’s responsibility in keeping open the doors of opportunity for the next generations of Californians, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, flanked by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, strode down the Assembly chambers and disappeared into a back room.

Into that back room, staffers brought an editor from Monterey County Weekly and me for 10 minutes with Rivas as the lone Central Coast journalists inside the Capitol that day. Rivas, freshly bestowed with near unparalleled power in California politics, asked us to sit with him as his staff snapped photos and prepared the room for a forthcoming press conference where large media outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Politico and CalMatters would gather to ask their own questions.

Heavy is the crown, but a relaxed and present Rivas hid it well. He seemed to listen deeply, despite the canned and vague nature of some of his answers to our questions. Sitting in that room with Rivas ahead of his first press conference as Speaker was like consciously standing at the edge of a great change; his life and responsibilities were about to be dramatically altered. I have had several conversations with Rivas in the past. But at the end of this one, he would be thrust into the statewide limelight, where the pressure is magnified.

Our conversation, which includes questions from Monterey County Weekly, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Lookout: So, how many hours did you sleep last night?

Rivas: (Laughs) oh, you know, four or five hours. It has been a very busy six months since [the Assembly’s Democratic Caucus] made this decision in November and [the full Assembly] formalized it in December. (Note: Rivas earned the speakership after a dramatic and prolonged struggle for power with now former speaker Anthony Rendon. Read more about that here.)

This six month period of transition, we took it very serious[ly] and we have been hard at work planning for this moment and planning for this transition. Our priorities are finishing out this year, trying to minimize that disruption. But, you know, still planning long-term for this fall and for next year — completing the legislative term but also focused on a very important election.

Robert Rivas sits in attendance as he awaits his swearing-in as Assembly speaker at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
Robert Rivas sits in attendance as he awaits his swearing-in as Assembly speaker at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Monterey County Weekly: So much of the theme of what we heard today in chambers was about how the federal government is failing people and that California has to step in. You talk about the great diversity of California, and obviously we heard today from people who share your perspective, but do you have to bring [all] Californians along, too?

Rivas: Absolutely. This is a county, you can say since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, that this is a country at a crossroads. California is at the forefront, and has always been at the forefront, of setting that narrative and leading in so many ways in so different policy areas. Now, certainly, with a lot of these decisions that have been coming down from the Supreme Court, people are looking for leadership and it comes from California. [The legislature] is certainly a united front when it comes to these larger national issues.

Lookout: Locals on the Central Coast are obviously very excited to have one of their own as Assembly Speaker. What ways do you feel like you’re able to immediately prioritize the Central Coast? How will you bring that local lens to the Speaker’s chair?

Rivas: It’s my home. It’s been my home my entire life. It’s not so much of what I can bring, it’s just building on what we’ve already been doing. Through this redistricting process the Central Coast now has three assembly members [Rivas, Gail Pellerin and Dawn Addis], and so I’m working very closely with them to ensure that we are fully representing our region. The Central Coast Caucus’s legislative package, and our emphasis, has always been on the issues we know are important for our district, and that’s not going to change. I just look forward to building on the work we’ve already done.

Lookout: Are you going to write bills? I know former Speaker Anthony Rendon did not and took a more decentralized approach.

Rivas: Yes, I intend to carry legislation and be as supportive as I can to support my colleagues, co-authoring bills and supporting them in all those efforts.

Lookout: You said in your speech that it is really important to end homelessness. Do you think it’s actually possible to end homelessness and what do you see as the state’s role in that versus cities and counties?

Rivas: Is it possible? I would like to think so. But you know, in my short time in the legislature, we have invested historic amounts of money to address homelessness and it seems like we’re not making much progress. This is an incredibly diverse state. Our approach to addressing these issues in all parts of the state are different. So, if we’re going to end homelessness, we’ve got to be serious about partnering at the federal level, the state level and the local level and doing what we can to bring people together around that issue.

Monterey County Weekly: Are you going to get any time to relax after this?

Rivas: I have a couple of events today and then look forward to just spending some time here in Sacramento tonight and heading home tomorrow.