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As California’s legislative session closes out, new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas faces a test

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas stands with farmland in the background
California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas visits Paicines, Calif., a farmworker community where he grew up, in June.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 12. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

  • Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas faces the end of the legislative session
  • Labor unions keep flexing their muscles
  • What happened at L.A.’s exclusive vegan dinner party where everyone is totally nude
  • And here’s today’s e-newspaper

As California’s legislative session closes out, new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas faces a test

At the end of June, Robert Rivas was sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly, capping a roughly yearlong divisive effort to secure one of the Golden State’s most powerful political seats.

The Democrat represents the state’s largely rural District 29, marking a notable shift after a generation of speakers who represented the L.A. or San Francisco regions. His family’s background as Mexican immigrants who worked on farms in the Central Valley also sets him apart from much of the political establishment in Sacramento.

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Speaking with Times Sacramento bureau chief Laurel Rosenhall, former secretary of Defense and California congressman Leon Panetta said it’s important for Rivas “to bring that perspective to Sacramento, which too often basically listens to the loudest voices, and not always the most important needs.”

“So far Rivas has managed to navigate California’s varied political universes largely by playing nice,” Laurel wrote, explaining that his first real test is about to begin as the state Legislature’s 2023 session ends Thursday.

Several controversial bills with major potential impacts on Californians will be decided in the coming days, including ones that seek to:

“Rivas used his small-town charm to build power,” Laurel wrote. “But will he be effective in steering a caucus dominated by big-city liberals?”

Another factor she highlights in her profile of the new speaker: the “unusual mix of ideologies” that form Rivas’ background. His grandfather was part of the farmworker rights movement. He’s been applauded for a progressive record. But he’s also collaborated with moderate Democrats in the state and reached across the aisle on occasion.

His wife was across that aisle, Laurel notes, registered as a Republican for more than a decade, though she switched to a minor party in 2022. Rivas’ brother and cousin also work for Govern for California, a network largely made up of Silicon Valley venture capitalists that opposes interest groups, including public employee unions, that they say “have dominated the halls of the Capitol in Sacramento.”

That fed a narrative by Rivas’ opponents that he had used his brother’s connections to buy political power. The Assembly speaker disputes that.

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“I am my own person. I make my own decisions,” he told The Times. “The only people that influence me are, certainly, the people I represent [and] the members that I work with in the Legislature.”

You can read more about Rivas in Laurel Rosenhall’s story.

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Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

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The mountains and rugged ocean shore of the Big Sur area near Monterey and Carmel.
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Today’s great photo is from Latonya Harris of Antelope, Calif.: The mountains and rugged ocean shore of the Big Sur area. Latonya writes:

The mountains and rugged ocean shore of the Big Sur area near Monterey and Carmel is one of California’s most awe-inspiring sights.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Laura Blasey, assistant editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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