- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Speaker Anthony Rendon, a former Head Start director who ascended to the chamber’s top spot Monday, says he plans to use his new role to steer the Legislature toward initiatives that expand educational programs for California’s 2.5 million impoverished children, raise California’s minimum wage and increase voter participation.

The Democrat from Paramount, south of Los Angeles, was elected by his colleagues last September and sworn into the leadership job on Monday. He serves at the will of the Democrats who control the Assembly.

“I worked in early childhood education for 20 years,” Rendon, 48, told reporters after the Capitol ceremony. “I saw the impact that that has on families, I saw the impact that that has long-term on children and not only their educational attainment but also their health.”

He’ll have time to focus on long-term goals as the first speaker elected under 12-year term limits that voters approved in 2012. He could hold office until 2024 - the longest tenure since the 1990s.

Voters approved California’s first term limits in 1990, which limited lawmakers to serving six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

“During the short term-limited era, I think a tremendous amount of power sort of receded from the Assembly, from the Legislature, and the executive branch became more powerful,” Rendon said.

He said lawmakers of both parties who are eligible to serve the longer, 12-year terms want to perform more oversight by questioning state agencies about their operations and budgets.

David Townsend, a Sacramento political consultant, said the 12-year term limits will change the dynamic in the Legislature.

“Before, it didn’t matter if you pissed off the speaker because in two years he or she wouldn’t be the speaker anymore,” Townsend said. “That’s not the case anymore.”

Rendon pledged in a speech on the floor of the Assembly that he would not author any bills this year, in an effort to help his colleagues achieve their own legislative goals.

He was integral in negotiating a $7.5 billion water bond that voters passed in 2014, but Rendon is best known for his positions on education and the environment, some of which put him at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat. Rendon supports expanded funding for pre-kindergarten, taxes on oil extraction and decreased fracking in urban areas, all of which contradict the governor’s views.

Brown vetoed his three bills last year that would have required greater disclosure from California’s Public Utilities Commission.

Rendon said he has “serious questions” about the costs and science behind Brown’s plan to divert water to Southern California using two massive water tunnels. Rendon also expressed concerns about the Brown administration’s revised plan for a $64 billion high-speed rail system, which is now planned to head to the San Francisco Bay Area before heading to Southern California.

Before running for office, he led a child development program in Southern California and directed the California League of Conservation Voters. Rendon has bachelor’s and master’s degrees California State University, Fullerton, and he earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Riverside.

He succeeds Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who is termed out of the Assembly this year and running for state Senate.

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This story corrects the residence of Speaker Anthony Rendon from Lakewood to Paramount.

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