71st Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert Rivas. Screen capture of live feed.
71st Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert Rivas. Screen capture of live feed.

Surrounded by his family at his swearing-in as the 71st Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert Rivas was optimistic in his remarks to those who came to witness his ascendancy to what is considered by many in Sacramento to be the second most powerful position in California politics.

“Make no mistake,” he said, “California is still the greatest state in the union with incredible natural resources, creativity, innovation, diversity, energy, and a history of welcoming everyone who chooses to come here and work hard. The California Dream is a phrase you can hear so much that it loses meaning, but for my family, that dream is the foundation and fabric of our lives.”

Rivas went on to say that he was proud to lead an Assembly that is the most diverse in California’s history and among the most diverse legislative bodies in the world.

“We must remember that our diversity is our collective heritage as Californians,” he said. “Our diversity is what built this state, it is our greatest strength today, and it is the foundation of our future.”

Key members of the government attended the June 30 event, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Attorney General Rob Bonta. Also present were state Representative Anna Caballero, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren and former U.S. representative Sam Farr. Eight former Assembly speakers were also present, including Rivas’ predecessor, Anthony Rendon and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi.

In a statement released after the ceremony, Pelosi praised Rivas as a “tireless leader in the fight to build a better future for all Californians.” She added that, “With Speaker Rivas at the helm in Sacramento, the Assembly will build on our legacy of progress and tackle the tough challenges facing working families in our beloved Golden State.”

Following a performance by the all-female mariachi band Las Colibrí, founder of El Teatro Campesino Luis Valdez praised Rivas in his keynote address, saying he was “a young leader who grew up in farmworker housing who has the integrity and compassion to do something for all the people of the state, but especially the people at the very bottom.”

Luis Valdez. Screen capture of live feed.
Luis Valdez. Screen capture of live feed.

Saying that he was proud to have “one of our beloved local homeboys speaking for our Golden State,” Valdez cited “the impressive evolution” of Rivas “as a humble grassroots leader, as the grandson of an activist farm labor organizer, the son of a single mother who attended school in the mission pueblo of San Juan Bautista, and now serving and residing in the city of Hollister with his wife Christian and family, which all speaks to the essence of our democracy itself.”

Farmworker advocate Dolores Huerta, who also attended the ceremony, was described by Rivas in his speech as a personal mentor and one of the most consequential leaders of our time. He said, “Your commitment to justice is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for everything you have done and always being there for me.”

A statement released by the office of the speaker quoted Huerta as saying, “Robert Rivas is the embodiment of the California Dream. Rising from farmworker housing to becoming Speaker of the California Assembly, Robert is an ally to workers and underserved communities and will continue to be a champion for all Californians.”

In his speech, Rivas hinted at possible areas of legislation he might pursue, citing the high costs of home ownership and higher education, homelessness and climate change.

“If we do not act and act with greater urgency,” he said, “it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here. We are the ones who can keep the door open for the next generation. We are responsible for protecting the building blocks of Californians’ everyday lives, from the water we drink to the air we breathe, to children’s schools to our public hospitals, it is on us to face these challenges”

Dr. Akilah Weber. Screen capture of live feed.
Dr. Akilah Weber. Screen capture of live feed.

Prior to Rivas’s remarks, various members of the assembly rose in praise of their new leader. 79th Assembly District member Akilah Weber said that Rivas had demonstrated his commitment to the needs of the most vulnerable in the state by passing legislation addressing farmworker housing, extreme heat, hospitals, seismic safety and sustainable agriculture.

“I cannot think of another member of this body,” she said, “who is fit and has the grit to take on ensuring that we are unified, to ensure that every one of our 80 Assembly districts has a voice that is heard and respected and that we continue to pass legislation that protects all Californians.”

The ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by students drawn from the various San Benito County school districts and concluded with a rendition of “The Best is Yet to Come” by the Blessed Choir of Sacramento.

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