Out San Diego State Sen. Toni Atkins is making history, again. On Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León announced that the Democratic Caucus had selected Atkins as De León’s successor. The formal vote will take place in early January, making Atkins the first woman and first openly LGBT person to hold that august leadership position in the progressive state.
Atkins, 55, was elected to the State Assembly in 2010 and was elected Assembly Speaker in May 2014, succeeding the Legislature’s first openly gay Assembly Speaker, John Perez. She served as speaker from May 2014 until March 2016, when she was elected to the senate.
De León said in a statement that Atkins “will make history and be our Senate’s next president pro tempore. I have every confidence she will lead America’s most accomplished legislative chamber to even greater heights and build on our extraordinary progress.”
“Today, I am humbled by the trust my colleagues have placed in me, and I intend to earn that trust every day by working tirelessly and inclusively to keep California a place of opportunity for everyone,” Atkins said in a statement. “Given our national divisions, California’s example is more important than ever – and I look forward to working with our President pro Tem and all of our colleagues to ensure that the Senate continues to rise together to meet the challenges faced by the great people we represent.”
Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying and advocacy organization, was thrilled, as well.
“Senator Toni Atkins is one of the LGBTQ community’s most respected and effective leaders and her upcoming election as the Senate President Pro Tem breaks multiple glass ceilings,” Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director, said in a statement. “Electing role models like Senator Atkins is important to the LGBTQ community because it sends a clear message to our community across the country, particularly LGBTQ youth, that LGBTQ people can achieve anything.”
EQCA notes that Atkins has championed groundbreaking bills in her impressive career that have advanced LGBT civil rights—such as SB 179 (Gender Recognition Act of 2017), SB 310 (Name and Dignity Act), AB 1577 (Respect After Death Act), AB 1211 (Transgender Name Changes, Birth and Death Certificates) among many others.
The news comes as wildfires—fueled by unprecedented Santa Ana winds are tearing through San Diego with the county calling more than 100,000 phone numbers through AlertSanDiego to issue evacuation orders or warnings.
Meanwhile, the California Republican delegation in Congress voted to approve a tax bill that eliminated the deduction for personal losses from wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters, but kept the break for victims of the recent severe hurricanes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“They actually voted for that bill,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during her weekly news conference. “[The members] voted to discriminate against victims of fire. We certainly want to have the deduction for victims of hurricanes and the rest, but why are they doing this to our state?”
“It’s once again important to note that 11 Republicans in California voted to do violence to the economy of our state,” Pelosi said.
Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said in a statement that a supplemental funding bill would provide fire disaster aid for California. “I look forward to passing that supplemental funding package — which will include tax relief that Leader Pelosi and I agree on — and I look forward to her support for tax reform that incorporates this wildfire tax relief and allows the deduction for personal losses and other tax relief for Californians and other victims of the recent disasters,” he said.
Pelosi noted pointed out that if the California House Republicans had voted against the tax reform bill, which passed by an 11-vote margin, the bill would have failed.
Fire damage will be a problem long after Atkins assumes her new office, though her historic swearing-in should be a welcome break from persistent bad news.