Could California get any bluer? While national LGBT politicos are pressing President Obama to include a call for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a pledge to sign an executive order banning LGBT discrimination among federal contractors in his State of the Union address next Tuesday, California’s economy is making a comeback under progressive Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratically controlled Legislature, led by openly gay Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.
And Wednesday, out lesbian Assembly Majority Floor Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was elected the next Speaker of the California Assembly. She is the first open lesbian to serve as speaker—and she takes over from the first openly gay man, current Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. The Speaker of the Assembly has often been described as the second most powerful person in state politics after the governor.
Atkin’s office issued this press release:
Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins of San Diego has been chosen by her Assembly Democratic colleagues to succeed Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as the next Speaker of the Assembly.
“I am humbled, grateful, and ready to get to work,” says Atkins. “From the drought we are experiencing to ensuring a healthy business climate and a world class educational system, California is facing important issues in the near future. I look forward to leading the State Assembly in working with the Senate and the Governor to meet our challenges and to move our great state forward. I thank my Assembly colleagues for their confidence and support.
I also am very grateful to Speaker Pérez for his support and mentorship and I look forward to working with him on a smooth transition.”
With her selection as Speaker, Atkins becomes only the second Democratic woman and second member of the LGBT community to hold the post. As Majority Leader, she is already responsible for the day to day operation of the Assembly Floor and has served as a member of Speaker Perez's leadership team.
Atkins represents a coastal San Diego district and was elected to the Assembly in 2010 following eight years on the San Diego City Council.
Perez's office issued this statement:
“I am delighted that Assembly Democrats have united behind Majority Leader Toni Atkins to become the next Speaker of the Assembly. I supported Ms. Atkins for Speaker because she is a strong leader on vital issues like increasing Californians access to health care, creating jobs and strengthening our state’s economy, and ensuring we honor the state’s debt to our veterans. I have also seen, perhaps better than anyone, how hard she works to keep the Assembly on track to take care of the people’s business. We will schedule a vote of the full Assembly early in the spring, and announce a transition date. I will do everything I can to ensure a seamless transition and I know Ms. Atkins will make an excellent Speaker.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento—who is forced out by term limits, as is Pérez—“anointed” Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, as his successor, according to the Sacramento Bee. That means the California Legislature will be led by lawmakers from Southern California.
Additionally, it is important to note that Pérez appointed Atkins (pictured here with the Victory Fund's Denis Dison) as Majority Floor Leader, helping cultivate rising LGBT leaders.
Though Atkins would be the first full-time out lesbian Speaker in history, she would not be the first to bang the gavel. Westside Democrat Sheila James Kuehl—California’s first elected openly gay lawmaker—served as speaker pro tem during the 1997-1998 session, and San Diego legislative heroine Christine Kehoe was elected assembly speaker pro tem during her time in the Assembly from 2000-2004.
Prior to Atkins, two other women held the important statewide position in line for the governorship—Doris Allen held the Assembly Speakership in 1995, and Karen Bass held it from 2008-2010.