By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
The past couple of months have been incredibly busy in the state Capitol as I’ve transitioned from rank-and-file member of the Senate to the 48th Senate President pro tempore — a fancy mouthful of a title that simply means “leader.”
I’ve been busy making staffing decisions, working on institutional issues and processes, and meeting with my colleagues to hear their ideas and desires going forward. There really hasn’t been much time to stop and reflect on what it all means.
Everything came to something of a crescendo on March 21, when the Senate voted me in as the next leader and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye administered the oath of office and swore me in.
The day started appropriately with a breakfast with my colleagues in the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and I was so pleased that some my close female friends from San Diego were able to join us. And it ended appropriately with a celebration thrown by my colleagues in the LGBT Caucus.
I say “appropriately” because I am in the fortunate position of becoming the first woman and the first member of the LGBTQ community elected as Senate leader. While I am not completely comfortable being talked about as “making history,” it’s important to recognize these milestones in gratitude to all of the courageous people who came before me and worked so hard for so long to see this happen. It is important to honor those pioneers and trailblazers.
For someone who doesn’t love to be center of attention, the ceremony itself was a bit excruciating but incredibly touching, as outgoing President pro tem Kevin de León and some of my colleagues spoke kind and thoughtful words. With their dedication to constituents, hard work, and great ideas for improving the California experience, they and all of my colleagues inspire me more than they know.
When it was my turn to speak, I acknowledged the firsts that were being achieved, and I talked about our state’s progress and prosperity and how we must ensure that everyone — no matter how they look, who they love or where their parents were born — can climb life’s ladder and be whoever they want to be.
I also challenged my colleagues, and myself, to take personal responsibility for changing the workplace culture in the Capitol, to create an environment where everyone feels safe, valued, and respected. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards and lead by example.
And I told them that I have no interest in the traditional, petty rivalries that can sometimes make policy progress more difficult. Senator or assembly member, Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, north, south or central — we are all Californians.
Having said that, I must acknowledge that I take immense pride in representing San Diego, and I plan to make sure our region receives an equitable share of the resources that our state government provides. I will also ensure that we are well-represented on important statewide boards and commissions that make decisions that affect our lives in profound ways.
As I sometimes say, only half-jokingly, being in leadership gives me an opportunity to remind the Capitol community that there is a part of California that lies south of Los Angeles!
In all seriousness, I am someone who will never, ever forget where I come from, who I represent, and who has lifted me up and given me opportunities to succeed.
In a nutshell, that is San Diego and the people who live here and work so hard to make it the fantastic place that it is. I consider you my partners, so — as I said at the end of my remarks on March 21 — let’s get to work!
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.