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Speaking Up for Education

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Assemblyman Anthony Rendon can trace the spark that ignited a career passion for the environment back to a Cal State Fullerton classroom.

“It was my first exposure to environmental studies that later led to a decade of work in the environmental movement with the Los Angeles and statewide chapters of the League of Conservation Voters,” says Rendon ’82, ’94 (B.A. political science-public administration, M.A. political science).

Well before the speaker of the California State Assembly ran for political office, he prepared for a career as a nonprofit executive, challenging legislators to protect the environment, to value education and child care by investing in them, and to focus on California’s poor.

And he threw his hat in the ring because “the Legislature needed a voice that understood those issues and would fight for them,” says Rendon. 

It’s as a Titan that Rendon says his eyes were opened to liberal arts courses and subjects in the humanities. “Art, literature and philosophy have become lifelong hobbies and passions,” he says.

As a graduate student in political science, he studied philosophy and government. Such a college experience once seemed lofty for a high school kid from Whittier who preferred punk music and soccer to studying. In retrospect, it was foundational.

“The experience wasn’t all that different from my current job, where we must be up to speed on a variety of policies — from the tax code to cybersecurity and insurance rates,” says Rendon, who went on to earn a doctorate at UC Riverside and completed postdoctoral work at Boston University.

Rendon, at the gavel since March, has the potential to serve eight years as speaker — longer than any speaker in the last 20 years — because of expanded term limits. He is now part of a club in which members’ tenures could stretch to 12 years in either chamber.

And his seat as speaker marks the first time both chambers of the California Legislature have been led by Latinos.

These “new” longtimers seem motivated to shift power from staffers and lobbyists to the lawmakers.

Although his acceptance speech included a pledge that he will not author bills this year, Rendon remains focused on the environment and education. He is eager to monitor how the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula shifts allocations of state funds to kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

“It’s our job to ensure it’s working as intended and that the appropriate funds are getting to students who most need the help,” Rendon says.

More can be done to improve access to affordable education, including at public universities, he adds.

“We must fulfill our responsibility to train students for the jobs of today, which means they must have access to education and training to be prepared for those jobs, as well as for their roles as informed and contributing members of their community,” he says. 

When Rendon returned to CSUF to teach political science as a lecturer, his career and political aspirations offered new insight to students.

“I always reminded my students that all countries have an executive branch, but only democracies have a legislative branch,” he says. “The Legislature is the part of state government closest to the people, and it’s our responsibility to conduct the proper oversight of all government operations to ensure they are operating in an efficient and effective manner.”