San Diego’s Toni Atkins is first female, LGBTQ state Senate president

SAN DIEGO — Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego was elected president pro tempore of the state Senate Wednesday, making her the first woman and first open member of the LGBTQ community to lead the Legislature’s upper house.

Atkins was unanimously chosen as president pro tem by the Democratic Caucus earlier this year and was sworn in after a voice vote of the full Senate. She is taking over for Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, who is running for U.S. Senate.

“Today is an especially fine day for America’s Finest City,” Atkins said.  “It’s been nearly 40 years since Jim Mills was the first and only senator from San Diego County to serve as pro tem, until today.”

Atkins served on the San Diego City Council before she was elected to the Assembly in 2010, where she served as speaker. She was elected to the Senate in 2016.

The title of “Californian” means “more today than ever before,” Atkins said in a speech following her swearing-in ceremony.

She lauded the state’s progress on wages, human rights and school and infrastructure investments. The lawmaker, who grew up in poverty in rural Virginia, said her aim is to ensure the economic benefits of the thriving innovation and entertainment industries are not limited only to a select few.

“We must ensure that every person living in California — no matter how they look, who they love or where their parents were born — can climb life’s ladder, live out loud and be whoever they want to be — without being demeaned, downsized or discriminated against,” she said. “California’s truest potential is to be a place where nothing stands in the way of its people fulfilling their truest potential.”

Atkins said she is committed to helping lead change in Sacramento. Recent sexual misconduct allegations made against lawmakers cannot be undone and progress cannot be made just because a woman is now leading the Senate, she said.

“True culture change, holding ourselves to a higher standard, requires the active, everyday enlightened participation of every person who works in and around this Capitol,” she said. “And I pledge to you: That will be our mission and our mandate.”

Prior to her election, Atkins got a warm reception from the other side of the aisle.

Minority Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said Atkins would be a “leader in a partnership” between Republicans and Democrats.

“You have my ear,” Bates said. “And we can yell at each other at appropriate times but we will find, I think, resolutions that we were sent here to find.”

Atkins represents the 39th District, which includes most of San Diego as well as Coronado, Del Mar, Solana Beach and parts of Rancho Santa Fe.