Toni Atkins takes the helm as Senate leader
As more of the LGBT community step forward to take leadership in a time of resistance under the Trump Administration, Democrat Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego has been elected as the head of the California Senate.
“It’s the first time– and it’s about time,” said the 55-year old Atkins after being sworn in by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
This is quite appropritate as this is the first time that a gay senator has been chosen to lead the Senate.
Toni Atkins: Growing up poor
Atkins was born on August 1, 1962 and grew up in southwestern Virginia. The daughter of a miner and a seamstress, Atkins said their four-room house didn’t have indoor plumbing and used a rain barrel to collect water.
Likewise, their bathroom was an outhouse and they cooked on a wood stove.
“We grew up incredibly poor. I didn’t go to a dentist until I was 24 years old. And I had buck teeth,” she said. “But despite the problems of poverty, I knew my parents loved me.”
She was the first in her family to graduate from college, getting a bachelor’s degree in political science from Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia that was paid through grants, scholarships, and loans.
After college, she headed to San Diego, California in 1985 to help her twin sister. Atkin said: “I’d always wanted to live in California.”
She also took up the Senior Executive Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University in 2004.
Toni Atkins: Steady rise to the top
It was in San Diego that she worked as director of clinic services at Womancare Health Center. From there, she was an aide and political analyst to San Diego Council member Christine Kehoe.
When Kehoe was elected to the state legislature, Atkins ran and was elected to replace Kehoe as the council’s District 3 representative for eight years.
She even became interim Mayor at City Hall in 2005 when then-Mayor Dick Murphy resigned and Council member Michael Zucchet, who was deputy mayor, was convicted of wire fraud and Hobbs Act violation.
She was elected to the state Assembly in 2010 and served for six years, being chosen by her colleagues to be the Speaker of the Assembly in 2014.
During her swearing in ceremony, she walked down the chamber’s center aisle hand in hand with her spouse, Jennifer LeSar.
Then in 2016, she was elected to represent the 39th district in the state Senate.
Toni Atkins: The peacemaker
As the Senate president pro tem, Atkin said: “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.”
Likewise, Atkins is the first former Assembly speaker to be elected as Senate leader. This says a lot as there is a lot of friction between the two chambers.
Speaking on her experience as speaker that she could apply as Senate leader, she said: “I’ve learned a little more patience. I think I’m calmer. I feel self-confidence that I may know what I’m doing.”