Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for brevity and clarity.)
Anthony Rendon was elected in his first try for public office in 2012. He served as chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, which crafted the $7.5 billion state water bond that was passed by the electorate in November 2014. In September, he was selected by his colleagues to the top post in his legislative body: Speaker of the Assembly.
Where were you born and raised and tell us a little about your youth?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mom was a teacher’s assistant and my dad worked in the mobile home industry. I was a terrible high school student and what you would call a late bloomer. In my high school and neighborhood—mostly Montebello and Whittier—not too many people were going to college and it wasn’t on my radar.
After high school, I worked in factories unloading trucks during the midnight shift. I would take the bus home in the morning and went right past the local community college. I saw people getting off the bus and going to school and that seemed like a much better life than I had.
Your resume notes that you went to Cerritos Community College and then received a Bachelor’s and Master’s from Cal State Fullerton and a doctorate from UC Riverside, studying political science. What led you down that path.?
I am a product of the low-cost, high-quality public college education system we offer here in California. At the community college level, I had a teacher I really liked who influenced me, and then I took a great class in philosophy that exposed me to many different political philosophies. After that, I continued to take political science classes and achieved degrees at the various levels.
How and why did you move into the political arena as a candidate?
After college, I entered the non-profit sector and ran several different non-profits, mostly in early child education. In that arena, I met many elected officials and was attracted to the work they did and the impact they could have. One of the first who influenced me was Judy Chu, who was in the Assembly at the time and is now in Congress. I became close to her and actually managed her husband’s election campaign when he ran for her seat.
When you ran and were elected in the Assembly, did you have a signature issue?
One of my key issues then and still today is early childhood education. I worked in that area for a long time and I know how important it is. In fact, I advanced two bills on the subject, but they were vetoed by the governor. They were both designed to make it easier for kids to qualify for these programs and for the programs to be used by the various non-profit groups. Sometimes you have to stitch together benefits so half of the benefit comes from one agency and the other half comes from another. I have worked in situations where you literally have to stop in the middle of the day and provide the child with a different curriculum because the money came from a different funding source. One of my bills was designed to make this a seamless transition.
I know you were also very involved in the development and the passage of the water bond. Agriculture is very interested in water storage. Now that projects are starting to move into the funding arena, what do you think the prospects are of water storage facilities being built?
There is a couple of billion dollars in the bond for water storage purposes. But to complete these big projects, there is going to have to be federal funding as well, and I just don’t know how that’s going to work out. The political reality is it is going to be very difficult. I think initially smaller, local water projects are going to be easier to get done.
I feel the same way about the Delta tunnel projects that are being talked about. That is one of those large scale concepts that is going to be difficult to get done. It is going to be tied up in lawsuits for a very long time. I think smaller, localized projects will have a much better chance of success.
When you came into the Legislature three years ago, it was very partisan and seemingly very difficult to get across the aisle cooperation. Has that remained the case?
When I got here, people did tell what I should expect, which was a government divided. But things have changed. Many of my best friends are Republicans and we do work together on many different issues. Sure there are some ideological differences, as there should be, but there does seem to be much more bipartisan cooperation than there used to be. We are meeting in the middle on many issues. The Water Bond is a great example. We got 70 votes with only two votes against it—one Democrat and one Republican.
Many people have pointed to the passage of the Open Primary proposition as the reason there is more cooperation, arguing that elected officials are more toward the center then they used to be. Do you think that’s true?
I’ve heard that, but I do not know if it’s true. I’m a political scientist and I’d like to see the data on that before I am convinced that is what is happening. I think you’d have to look at how people vote over a five-year period or so to see if they are more moderate.
The other factor that happened at about the same time was the expansion of the term limit. I think that has had a much bigger impact. That has created a behavioral change because you are going to be here for a much longer period working with the same people across the aisle for as long as 12 years. It makes sense that you try to get along and reach compromises.
Because of urbanization and less connection to the land, the agriculture industry believes it has lost some of the connections that were there in years gone-by. Does agriculture have much clout in the Legislature?
Agriculture has significant clout. When we were talking about hearings on the Water Bond, we held them all over the state. We did that because many legislators from these rural areas and from all around the state advocated that we hear from their agricultural constituents. We held 16 public hearings all over the state. We were in Hanford, Modesto, Fresno and Shasta. Members (of the Assembly) wanted us to get input from their constituents. There is a significant amount of clout in the agricultural world.
You are now the Speaker of the Assembly, which is a powerful leadership position. Do you have future political aspirations?
I have not thought about that at all. Because of the possibility of a 12-year term, I suspect that this is where I will be for the next nine years. I have not thought beyond that, but I suspect I will go back to the non-profit sector. I do not expect to be a politician for my entire career.
Our members produce some of the finest fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world, do you consume our products and do you have a favorite?
I definitely do. When I was a kid we had a plum tree in our yard and I used to live off those plums. Today, I am a big fan of Korean barbecue and all the vegetable side dishes that come with it.