Today, Assembly member Toni Atkins was elected to become the 69th Speaker of the California State Assembly. Atkins is only the second Democratic woman, and the first openly gay woman, to hold the position of Speaker. At this time, a specific date has not been set for when she will take over for outgoing speaker, John Perez. Perez said that the transition date will be decided based upon how long it takes to make the transition and not by a random date on the calendar.
In her acceptance speech, Atkins said that she was grateful to her colleagues for the responsibility and the honor of being elected to the highest position in the Assembly. She said California is finally on a path of growing prosperity and looks forward to working with Governor Jerry Brown and other assembly members to continue planning a solid financial future for the state.
Atkins spoke about her priorities for the legislature, which include dealing with the state’s water infrastructure and the water bond on the upcoming November ballot. She also anticipates working on the issue of prison overcrowding and addressing the cost of pension obligations. While bringing her own perspective and priorities to the position, the transition between her and Speaker Perez is expected by many to be a fairly seamless one.
Atkins originally hails from West Virginia, where she lived with her father, a coal miner, and her mother, a seamstress, in a house with no running water. As a college student she studied political science at Emory and Henry College, focusing on community organizing. After that, she went to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
She relocated to San Diego when she was in her 20s and began working at the Womancare Health Center, eventually becoming the center’s director. Her first job in politics was as a policy analyst for San Diego city council member Christine Kehoe. After that, she was elected to the San Diego City Council in 2000, continuing there until she was elected to the state assembly in 2010.
Throughout her career, prior to being elected as assembly speaker, several issues have been at the forefront of her work. Affordable housing has been one of her top priorities. She was the main driver behind organizing San Diego’s first Housing State of Emergency. Also while in San Diego, she was instrumental in the city’s first inclusionary housing policy raised considerable amounts of money to build affordable housing units.
While in the Assembly, she worked on legislation that dealt with equality (transgender identity documents) military families (tax exempt status for military thrift shops), health (abortions) and the environment (coastal commission).
Now that she has been elected as the Speaker of the Assembly, she will have a whole new series of responsibilities including committee appointments and other important staffing decisions. As speaker, Atkins will be a voting member of both the University of California and the California State University boards. As someone who will have a vote on future budgets, she said that she would continue to support students by trying to hold down the cost of education.
By Dan Reyes