Toni Atkins
Sen. Toni Atkins at a press conference. Courtesy of her office

In a ceremony in the state Capitol Wednesday, San Diego’s state Sen. Toni Atkins was sworn in as the 48th President pro Tempore of the California Senate.

Atkins is the first woman and the first open member of the LGBTQ community to lead the California Senate.

“It’s the first time. And it’s about time,” she said. Women and LGBTQ activists “weren’t waiting — they were working. Marching in streets. Battling in courtrooms. Speaking out. Stepping up. This ascension is their accomplishment, not mine.”

She’s also the first person to serve as both Speaker of the Assembly and President pro Tem of the Senate in 146 years.

After a unanimous vote of her colleagues, Atkins was sworn in by California Supreme Court Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye.

Atkins succeeds Sen. Kevin de León, who is running for Governor. She praised de León’s commitment to expanding opportunity for all Californians.

“For every gesture of kindness he’s extended to me,” she said, and for every measure of devotion he’s offered our state – our climate, our children, our working families and our immigrant community – from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.”

Atkins issued a rebuke of conservatives who focus on the past and criticize California for its innovation.

“On any given day,” she said, “California is the world’s breadbasket, the capital of both the entertainment industry and the innovation economy, and produces more domestic prosperity than 236 nations. The future is now — and it’s within each of us to bring it forth.”

Atkins represents the 39th Senate District, which includes most of the city of San Diego, as well as the cities of Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach.

“Today is an especially fine day for America’s Finest City,” Atkins said. “It’s been nearly 40 years since Jim Mills was the first and only senator from San Diego County to serve as pro tem, until today.”

Atkins served on the San Diego City Council before she was elected to the Assembly in 2010, where she served as speaker. She was elected to the Senate in 2016.

The title of “Californian” means “more today than ever before,” Atkins said in a speech following her swearing-in ceremony.

She lauded the state’s progress on wages, human rights and school and infrastructure investments. The lawmaker, who grew up in poverty in rural Virginia, said her aim is to ensure the economic benefits of the thriving innovation and entertainment industries are not limited only to a select few.

“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,” she said. “California’s truest potential is to be a place where nothing stands in the way of its people fulfilling their truest potential.”

Atkins said she is committed to helping lead change in Sacramento. Recent sexual misconduct allegations made against lawmakers cannot be undone and progress cannot be made just because a woman is now leading the Senate, she said.

“True culture change, holding ourselves to a higher standard, requires the active, everyday enlightened participation of every person who works in and around this Capitol,” she said. “And I pledge to you: That will be our mission and our mandate.”

Prior to her election, Atkins got a warm reception from the other side of the aisle.

Minority Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said Atkins would be a “leader in a partnership” between Republicans and Democrats.

“You have my ear,” Bates said. “And we can yell at each other at appropriate times but we will find, I think, resolutions that we were sent here to find.”

— City News Service contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.