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Toni Atkins
Toni Atkins Headshot.jpg
51st President pro tempore of the California State Senate
Assumed office
March 21, 2018
Preceded byKevin de León
Member of the California State Senate
from the 39th district
Assumed office
December 5, 2016
Preceded byMarty Block
69th Speaker of the California State Assembly
In office
May 12, 2014 – March 7, 2016
Preceded byJohn Pérez
Succeeded byAnthony Rendon
Majority Leader of the California State Assembly
In office
September 1, 2012 – May 12, 2014
Preceded byCharles Calderon
Succeeded byManuel Perez
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 78th district
76th district (2010–2012)
In office
December 6, 2010 – November 30, 2016
Preceded byLori Saldaña
Succeeded byTodd Gloria
Mayor of San Diego
In office
July 18, 2005 – December 5, 2005
Preceded byMichael Zucchet (Acting)
Succeeded byJerry Sanders
Member of San Diego City Council
from the 3rd district
In office
December 4, 2000 – December 8, 2008
Preceded byChristine Kehoe
Succeeded byTodd Gloria
Personal details
Toni Gayle Atkins

(1962-08-01) August 1, 1962 (age 58)
Wythe County, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Jennifer LeSar
ResidenceSouth Park, California, U.S.
EducationEmory and Henry College (BA)

Toni Gayle Atkins[1] (born August 1, 1962) is an American politician serving as the 51st and current President pro tempore of the California State Senate since 2018. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 69th Speaker of the California State Assembly from 2014 to 2016. She has represented the 39th State Senate district since 2016, encompassing most of San Diego.

Upon her election as Speaker of the State Assembly, she became the third woman and first acknowledged lesbian to be elected to the position, as well as the first lawmaker from San Diego holding the office.[2][3] She served on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008, including a term as Acting Mayor of San Diego in 2005. She also served as Acting Governor of California for nine hours on July 30, 2014.[4][5] In 2018, she succeeded Kevin de León as State Senate President pro tempore. This made her the first woman and the first openly LGBT person to lead the California State Senate.[6][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Atkins spent her early years in Max Meadows, Virginia, moving to Roanoke at the age of seven.[8] Her father was a miner and her mother a seamstress; she grew up in a home with no running water.[2] She graduated from Emory & Henry College in 1984 and earned a BA in political science, focusing on community organizing.[9] In 2004, Atkins completed Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government as a David Bohnett LGBTQ Victory Institute Leadership Fellow. Atkins relocated to San Diego in 1985.

San Diego City Council[edit]

When she first came to San Diego, she joined the staff of Womancare Health Center as Director of Clinic Services. She then served for a number of years as council representative and policy analyst to City Councilmember Christine Kehoe. When Kehoe was elected to the state legislature, Atkins was elected to Kehoe's City Council seat on November 7, 2000. She was reelected in March 2004, without the need for a November runoff.

In April 2005 Mayor Dick Murphy resigned after criticism of his handing of the city's fiscal problems.[10] Councilmember Michael Zucchet, who was deputy mayor, took over, but three days later, resigned along with Councilmember Ralph Inzunza after they were convicted of wire fraud and Hobbs Act violations. In an emergency vote on July 19, Atkins was chosen by the other five council members to take over as mayor pro-tem for one week. On July 25 they reaffirmed their choice and designated Atkins deputy mayor to serve until Jerry Sanders was sworn in as mayor on December 5.[11] Atkins was the first openly lesbian mayor of San Diego.

While on the council, she represented the City of San Diego at the San Diego Chapter of the League of Cities as well as on the board and executive committee of the Metropolitan Transit System. She sat on the San Diego Association of Governments (SanDAG) Regional Housing Working Group, as an alternate to the Transportation Committee and the Regional Planning Committee, and the City/County Joint Homeless Task Force. She continues to serve on the San Diego River Conservancy as an appointee of former California State Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson. She lists among her priorities affordable housing, workers' rights, neighborhood revitalization and redevelopment of San Diego's older urban neighborhoods.

State legislature[edit]

State Assembly[edit]

She was elected to the State Assembly in November 2010, receiving 57.7% of the vote.[12] She represented the 76th Assembly district. In November 2012 she ran in the 78th Assembly district due to redistricting, and won with 62% of the vote.[13]

In 2012 she introduced AB 1522, a bill to prevent the granting of financial support and other spousal rights to abusive spouses. The bill was inspired by the case of a San Diego woman who was ordered to pay legal fees and spousal support to her ex-husband even though he was in prison for abusing her.[14]

In 2012, she was the Majority Leader of the California State Assembly; in January 2014 she was chosen by the Democratic Caucus to take over as Speaker of the Assembly later in the year, replacing termed-out speaker John Pérez. She was the first Speaker of the Assembly from San Diego; the first lesbian to hold the position; and the third woman to do so.[15] Atkins was reelected as Speaker by the Democratic caucus in November 2014. As Speaker she helped to write and secure passage for a $7.5-billion water bond that was approved by the legislature and the voters in 2014.[16] Atkins stepped down as Assembly speaker in March 2016.[17]

2014 California State Assembly election[edit]

California's 78th State Assembly district election, 2014
Primary election
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Toni Atkins (incumbent) 45,922 60.2
Republican Barbara Decker 21,545 28.2
Republican Kevin D. Melton 8,855 11.6
Total votes 76,322 100.0
General election
Democratic Toni Atkins (incumbent) 72,224 61.6
Republican Barbara Decker 45,088 38.4
Total votes 117,312 100.0
Democratic hold

State Senate[edit]

She ran as candidate for the California's 39th State Senate district in 2016, initially challenging the incumbent Marty Block, also a Democrat, before Block bowed out.[18] In the general election, she defeated Republican John Renison with 63% of the vote.[19]

In 2018, Atkins succeeded Kevin de León as State Senate President pro tempore. This made her the first woman and the first openly LGBT person to lead the California State Senate.[6][7]

Housing legislation[edit]

In May 2019, after Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino blocked Senate Bill 50, a bill proposing major reforms to address the California housing shortage by reducing local control (such as requiring the permitting of more apartment construction near public transit and in suburbs with high-paying jobs), from leaving committee and entering the Senate for debate and voting, Atkins refused to step in and take the bill out of committee, which was within her powers.[20][21] Proponents of the bill accused Portantino of abusing his powers to deny SB50 a debate and a vote in the Senate.[22] Atkins' action stopped legislators from bringing the bill back for consideration that year.[20] Due to this delay, the bill could not be considered by the Senate until 2020.[20]

In January 2020, when the bill was being reconsidered, Atkins exercised her parliamentary powers to move the bill out of Portantino's committee. The bill made it to the senate floor and was subsequently defeated after multiple floor votes.[23][24]

Personal life[edit]

Atkins is one of eight members of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. She lives in the South Park neighborhood with her spouse, Jennifer LeSar.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commentary | Toni Gayle Atkins: State of California can't afford complacency". Senator Toni G. Atkins. Feb 5, 2019. Retrieved Dec 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Mason, Melanie (March 17, 2014). "Assemblywoman Toni Atkins voted in as speaker-elect". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  3. ^ "Capitol Alert: It's official: Toni Atkins elected speaker of California Assembly -".
  4. ^ Chokshi, Niraj. "For a fleeting moment today, California will have its first openly gay governor". The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  5. ^ "California Assembly Speaker Becomes First Gay Governor For A Few Hours". 31 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Toni Atkins will be first woman and the first openly gay person to lead California Senate". Sacramento Bee. December 7, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "First woman, LGBT lawmaker to lead California Senate". Retrieved Dec 23, 2020.
  8. ^ 981-3423, Dan Casey "Casey: The most powerful female pol ever to emerge from Virginia?". Roanoke Times. Retrieved 2017-12-09.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ "Atkins Named California Assembly Majority Leader". Emory & Henry College. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  10. ^ "San Diego's decade-long budget travails may be nearing an end", Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2012
  11. ^ "Toni Atkins to serve as San Diego's deputy mayor until new mayor elected". North County Times. 2005-07-25. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  12. ^ "California Secretary of State: November 2011 election results" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  13. ^ "Presidential General Election, November 6, 2012". San Diego County Registrar of Voters. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  14. ^ "Atkins Bill denying abusive spousal rights moves to Assembly floor", San Diego LGBT Weekly, March 20, 2012
  15. ^ Gardner, Michael (January 22, 2014). "San Diego's Atkins to be next Assembly speaker". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  16. ^ Mason, Melanie (September 19, 2015). "Democratic clash: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins to challenge Sen. Marty Block". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Toni Atkins to step down as Assembly speaker in March". FOX5 San Diego - San Diego News, Weather, Traffic and Sports | KSWB. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  18. ^ McGreevey, Patrick (28 January 2016). "Sen. Block bows out of race against Atkins". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  19. ^ "Toni Atkins (California)". Ballotpedia.
  20. ^ a b c "California's big housing bill is dead for the year. Here's what's left -". 2019-05-20. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  21. ^ White, Jeremy B.; Marinucci, Carla; ALEX; Nieves, Er; Massara, Graph. "TRUMP swipes at CALIFORNIA — ATKINS denies HOUSING pleas — BECERRA overruled on COP RECORDS release — BORDER WALL EMERGENCY in court". POLITICO. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  22. ^ "Supporters unite in last-chance effort to save California's most controversial housing bill". The Mercury News. 2019-05-22. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  23. ^ "State Senate head saved California's most important housing bill, showing what leadership is made of". Los Angeles Times. Jan 23, 2020. Retrieved Dec 23, 2020.
  24. ^ Sheyner, Gennady. "Contentious housing bill SB 50 dies on the Senate floor". Retrieved Dec 23, 2020.
  25. ^ "Senator Toni Atkins: Biography". California State Senate Majority Caucus. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2018.

External links[edit]

California Assembly
Preceded by
Charles Calderon
Majority Leader of the California Assembly
Succeeded by
Manuel Perez
Political offices
Preceded by
John Pérez
Speaker of the California Assembly
Succeeded by
Anthony Rendon
California Senate
Preceded by
Kevin de León
President pro tempore of the California State Senate