LGBT Californians continue to make history. On Monday, May 12, openly gay Latino John A. Pérez handed over the gavel as Speaker of the California Assembly to married lesbian Toni Atkins as her spouse, Jennifer LeSar, and Atkins' nephew, Thomas Phillips, looked on. Atkins is also the first Assembly Speaker from San Diego.
Joining Pérez to witness the transfer of power for the third most important position in state government was Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state’s other constitution officers and legislative members, as well as consuls general from around the world. Rep. Karen Bass—the first elected female and first African-American female Speaker of the Assembly—administered the Oath of Office.
Atkins has a long and deeply respected career as a grassroots activist and political public servant. As we reported last January after her Democratic colleagues elected her Speaker, Atkins, 51, earned her grassroots stripes as a clinic administrator in San Diego from 1987 to 1993—a heated time when women seeking abortions needed protection from rabid pro-life demonstrators. She subsequently volunteered on the City Council campaign of Christine Kehoe in 1993, joining her paid staff shortly after that. When Kehoe was elected to the Assembly in 2000, Atkins was elected to her seat. She married Jennifer LeSar in 2008. She was elected to the Assembly in 2010.
Chris Kehoe, Atkins said, “has been an incredibly important influence in my life. She was not only a mentor—she’s been an incredible friend. Frankly, when I came to Sacramento, she paved the way for me here and made it so much easier for me to transition from local government to state.”
Kehoe was there to watch Atkins sworn in and celebrate California. In her remarks, Atkins said:
We want to restore the Golden State that provided our kids the best education and good jobs. We want to ensure that the California Dream is alive and well for everyone in our state, and for everyone who, like me, comes here to achieve their dream. We want the Golden State to be the Gold Standard that others strive towards.
For the last decade, and especially in light of the Great Recession, we’ve had to work our way back. And, California has finally turned the corner.
We are still the 8th largest economy in the world. And members, regardless of how it may be misrepresented, we aren’t really in competition with Texas. We are in competition with Brazil and Italy and France. We are a $2 trillion dollar economy. We are the number one state for venture capital. We have 3.4 million small businesses that provide more than half the jobs in California. And last year we enacted 18 new business-friendly laws that will help business owners by removing regulatory burdens, restoring some investment tax breaks and by creating the “Made in California” program.
As Speaker, Pérez was responsible for working with Brown and the Legislature to bring stability to California’s economy and for instituting progressive ideas. Termed out, Pérez is now running for State Controller against State Board of Equalization member and LGBT ally Betty Yee. Pérez received a standing ovation before Atkins was sworn in.
Pérez also issued a “Thank You” statement to supporters:
Thank you for the honor of serving as Speaker of the Assembly for the past four years. California is on the right track again because of the work we did together — keeping our budget in balance and reinvesting in education and the social programs that are core to our Democratic values.
At 1:00 pm today we will officially swear in Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins as our new Speaker. I look forward to working with all of you under her leadership as we continue California’s economic recovery with a fourth on-time and balanced budget.
Thank you again for four productive, memorable, and fun years as your Speaker.
Atkins’ team has already posted the complete audio of her swearing in, quotes from her subsequent news conference, the announcement of her leadership team and her comments on Gov. Brown’s May Revised Budget. (There are also more photos from the swearing in, courtesy the Assembly Democratic Caucus.)
Here’s an edited version of the Atkins’ swearing in ceremony, as history is again made in California: