June 30, 2023

Speaker Robert Rivas' Inauguration Ceremony Remarks


It is my great honor to undertake the responsibilities of the Speaker of the California State Assembly.

I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me, on behalf of the people of California, to lead this body and to support the enactment of just laws.

I am proud to lead an Assembly that is the most diverse in California’s history and is among the most diverse legislative bodies in the world.

Our diversity is our collective heritage as Californians. Our diversity built this state. It is our greatest strength today, and it is the foundation of our future.

I can tell you that no one gets to this dais without a great deal of help. And I want to begin by expressing gratitude to you, my colleagues. Since I arrived here in the Assembly so many of you, on both sides of the aisle, have lent me your advice and encouragement. And I stand here with the greatest respect for the work each of you do every day. Thank you for serving California.

And at this moment of change, I want to acknowledge outgoing Speaker Anthony Rendon. During his tenure, this Assembly has made significant progress for the people of California. We thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your leadership for your service, and for your deep commitment to our state.

The Governor is with us today. Governor Newsom, with moral clarity and concern for our most vulnerable, has been a relentless advocate for Californians during one of the most difficult periods in American history. Governor, I am grateful – we are grateful – for your leadership, and I look forward to what we will accomplish together.

It is my great honor to recognize one of the greatest Speakers our country has ever had, our formidable Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. Madam Speaker Emerita, your relentless fight for our democracy’s heart and soul inspires me and every member of our caucus. Thank you for all you do.

And I am so proud that my very own representative in Washington DC, the great Zoe Lofgren, is in the house. I also want to recognize a dear friend, and our fearless Senate Pro Tem and former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. I look forward to working with you, Madam Pro Tem.

I’m so appreciative of every dignitary and Constitutional Officer here today. California is blessed to have these trailblazing leaders guiding us. Thank you for your service, and thank you for being here.

I also want to acknowledge someone very special to me – Dolores Huerta is here. Dolores is a legend whose work has lifted up millions across the world. She is one of the most consequential leaders of our time. Dolores, you have been a friend to my family for so long and a personal mentor to me. Your commitment to justice is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for everything and thank you for always being there for me.

We are also joined this morning here on our Assembly Floor by many farmworkers. Women and men, whose daily labor – whose sacrifices – are and have always been the backbone of California’s fifty-billion-dollar agricultural economy. Please help me honor and welcome them to our State Capitol.

I am proud to lead an Assembly that is the most diverse in California’s history.

California valley landscape

And it is with a full and grateful heart that I acknowledge two incredible women: My wonderful mom, Mayra Flores, and my incredible ninety-year-old grandmother – who helped raise me and my brother – Rosaenna Flores.

In addition to my mom and grandmother, my entire family is here today. The strength and determination of my mom and grandmother – the strength and determination of my family – have shaped every part of my life. Words can never express my gratitude to them, and what it means to have them here with me.

It’s tough to find the words because the odds were stacked against our family when we immigrated to California in the 1960s, traveling some 1,800 miles from Mexico.

The tough odds that we faced bind us to others who’ve settled here:

Chinese laborers who built the railroads.

Fortune-seeking 49ers.

Black Americans leaving the postbellum South.

Oakies fleeing the Dust Bowl.

Mexican and Latin Americans migrating to work the fields.

LGBTQ Americans looking for a place where their rights would be respected.

And there are so many other examples.

My grandfather – Servando Flores – his first job was picking and packing grapes at Almaden Vineyards. My mom was just eight years old then. Our family lived in a two-room farmworker unit, a unit that often glistened with spray from the pesticides used on the fields. In the early 1980s my brother and I were raised in that same humble home. By then more family members lived with us. Eight people, three beds, and a single bathroom.

We were poor. Our home was crowded. But my family was always focused on building a better life for ourselves and for others.

Despite great personal risk my grandfather organized with the UFW and Dolores Huerta, and won a first-ever labor contract for him and his fellow workers. My grandmother and great-grandmother worked the night shift at a tomato cannery to keep food on our table. My mom worked as a secretary before becoming a kindergarten teacher. She sold Mary Kay and Rainbow Vacuum cleaners to make sure my brother and I had a chance at a better life.

In some ways our lives were difficult. But I was raised in the spirit of service elevated by a strong community, a community where people took care of each other. And I was surrounded by so much love.

Love, community, and service – those are the three forces that got me to the California State Legislature. Love, community, and service – those are the three forces that have helped me understand that our lives are only worthwhile when we bring others up as we rise.

Young Robert Rivas sitting on his grandfather's lap
Robert Rivas and his family

I was raised in the spirit of service elevated by a strong community. And I was surrounded by so much love.

In these kinds of speeches, you hear a lot about the California Dream. The phrase is used so much that it can lose its meaning or become a cliché.

But for our family, the Dream is the foundation and fabric of our lives.

As I mentioned, my grandfather was a farmworker his entire life, and I grew up in farmworker housing. Today, I stand before you as Speaker of the California State Assembly. That is the California Dream.

But this trajectory was only possible for us because the California my grandparents immigrated to made it possible. The opportunities here, at that time, were greater than anywhere else.

But to be candid – I often wonder, as many of our residents do, if our story would still be possible today.

You see – In 1988 my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins pooled their savings to buy a small house for $140,000. It was a massive investment, but it was doable. The house was ours. It gave us a sense that our future was not so precarious, and that there was a place for us in California.

But today, homeownership for anyone – except the most affluent Californians – is simply out of reach. Our state’s average home price today – which recently dropped – is just under $775,000. An entire generation of Californians will be locked out of home ownership if we do not do more.

Education is another example. I started my life in very humble surroundings but went each day to public schools that gave me a great education. After high school, I went to two of California’s public universities in the CSU system. But today many young Californians are asking if college is actually worth it – and it’s no surprise given the astronomical costs of attending college.

At every stage of life in California, from early schooling to getting a higher degree to that crucial step of buying a first home, success feels increasingly out of reach.

And it’s not just those with the lowest incomes who are struggling. For three years in a row, and for the first time in our state’s history, the population of our state has declined at every income level.

The most visible sign of our times: The encampments under our highways and on downtown streets. But working and middle-class families are facing the same pressures and asking the same question: Is there still a place for me in California?

Make no mistake, California is still the greatest state in the union. Incredible natural resources. Creativity and innovation. Diversity. Energy. And a history of welcoming everyone who chooses to come here and work hard. Yes, California is the most populous state in the country. Yes, California is the 4th largest economy in the world.

But if we in this room do not act with greater urgency, it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here.

If we in this room do not act with greater urgency, it will get more and more difficult to build a good life here.

fremont peak state park mountain sunset orange sky

I feel, and I know you all do too, a great sense of responsibility because 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, from children’s schools, to our public hospitals – it is on us.

To face these challenges, we must return our attention to the basics.

  • We must elevate California’s working and middle classes by enacting practical measures to lift the economic burden they face.
  • We must make our public services the best in America. We should have the best schools, roads, and hospitals. And we don’t. It’s time to ask ourselves why that is and take real action – even when it’s tough or unpopular – to fix it.
  • We must use every tool at our disposal to end homelessness because the inhumane conditions on our streets are completely unacceptable.
  • And we must achieve all this by continuing to do what California does best: Protecting our incredible environment and protecting the right of every Californian to live, to love, to choose, and to thrive.

This will mean focusing less on how many bills we can pass and more on the impact we are having.

Sometimes this will mean going back and fixing something, rather than passing a new law. It may mean saying no to an interest group that has had our back in the past. It may mean reaching out to a colleague whose beliefs are different from our own.

What’s clear: We must work with urgency and unity that is backed by mutual trust and respect. Today I pledge to you to do whatever I can to reinforce these values. This approach will allow us to make measurable progress on the most critical issues facing Californians and it will show the rest of the county that progressive government works.

Robert Rivas, his wife, and his daughter
Young sporty boy enjoying hiking the mountain

We are the ones who can keep the door open for the next generation.

I want to close by thanking the two most important people in my life: My wife Christen, without whose love and support I would not be here, and our precious daughter Melina. Raising Melina is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Being a father has given me a lot of perspectives, and I know that every parent in this room knows what I’m talking about.

I think often about Melina’s life. Her life in thirty years, when she has a family of her own.

Her life in fifty years, when her children have gone to college.

And in seventy years, when she is looking back on a long and happy life.

I want her to make that life here in California.

That means ensuring, as your Speaker, that the California dream that elevated me – that has elevated so many of us – can elevate her and every member of her generation. That is our responsibility. That is our mission.

We will get it done – and we will get it done together.

Thank you very much.

California landscape

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