Fresno Democrat floats a bid for Assembly Speaker. Will his party’s leader agreement hold?

A group of California Democrats is working to quash a potential Assembly speakership bid from a Fresno lawmaker, a move they call “surprising” given the caucus’s existing leader transition agreement.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, told The Sacramento Bee he is “considering” vying to become the next Assembly speaker. He said members approached him about the position.

His potential bid comes as Assembly Democrats are just starting to move on from the protracted leadership battle between Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister.

Rivas has been working to claim Rendon’s leadership position since late May. Rendon held the role for more than six years. Their bitter fight fractured Assembly Democrats and dragged on through the midterm campaign cycle.

A post-election caucus in November produced an agreement stating Rendon would remain speaker through June 30, with Rivas taking over for the end of the legislative session.

In December, the full Assembly approved a resolution laying out the terms of the transition. Rendon’s office declined to comment on Arambula’s potential bid for the leadership.

Arambula makes his move

Although Democratic caucus members have repeatedly said the transition agreement was unanimous, Arambula said he thinks Rendon is the only Assembly member who has achieved the votes needed to be speaker.

He would not share how many members had approached him, saying he preferred to keep those conversations private, as well as those he had during caucus meetings.

“The only member who has been able to get 41 individual votes on the floor has been Speaker Rendon,” Arambula said. “And thus, I believe it’s important for us to find a consensus candidate as we’re working through this upcoming year, where our state will have budget issues to address.”

The December leadership agreement was approved through an Assembly voice vote with little apparent dissent.

Steve Maviglio, a Democratic consultant working for Rivas, called the agreement “game over.”

“The fact that not a single member came forward in support of a challenge reflects the caucus has made its final decision and has moved on,” he said in a text message.

Democrats downplay Arambula bid

Lawmakers who supported both Rendon and Rivas said they consider the matter settled. They want to continue forward and conduct the state’s business.

Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-Colton, has been a staunch Rendon supporter. She told The Bee in October there wasn’t an opening for a speaker, because the Assembly already had one in Rendon.

Reyes said she hasn’t had any conversations with Arambula about becoming speaker, but she “(believes) the caucus has already voted.”

“These votes represent the will of the Assembly Democratic caucus,” Reyes said. “And as a member, I’m going to continue to support the will of my colleagues.”

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, a longtime Rivas supporter, also characterized the caucus as “united behind the consensus decision that has already been made in November and December.”

When asked if she thinks the leadership agreement will hold in light of Arambula’s move, she said: “1,000%.”

Esmeralda Soria’s take

First-year Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, was in the midst of her Assembly campaign when much of the leadership battle unfolded. Soria said she was grateful for the support of both Rivas and Rendon, but she never took a side in their fight.

She said she was surprised to hear about Arambula’s moves, as she thought the caucus “essentially made our position and came out of there in a unified way.”

“People can always say that they will attempt to do something,” Soria said. “But I think the Legislature has demonstrated as a body that we’re moving in this direction, unless there is a different vote. And I think that it is pretty clear what direction we’re moving in at this moment.”