Assembly Democrats voted unanimously Wednesday to make Toni Atkins of San Diego the next Assembly speaker, Speaker John A. Pérez said after a closed-door meeting.
The announcement ended months of speculation about who would take over the leadership post once Pérez leaves office at the end of 2014. “It was unanimous going into the room, it was unanimous coming out of the room,” Pérez said. “There was absolute unanimity about people’s support and excitement about having Ms. Atkins as the next speaker.”
A formal vote of the entire lower house will come some time in the spring, Pérez said. The timeline for Atkins formally taking over has not been fixed.
“It’s the work of transition that will dictate the timeline,” Pérez said. “It is not an insignificant institution.”
Atkins’ selection sets a few milestones. She will be the first openly gay woman to lead either chamber of the state Legislature. Atkins also will be the first lawmaker from San Diego to run the Assembly.
With Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, set to take over as Senate president pro tem later this year, California is also on the verge of another rarity: Having both legislative leaders hail from Southern California.
While lawmakers have historically chosen a northerner to lead one house and a southern lawmaker the other, Pérez dismissed the appearance of a tradition as “an artificial construct.” Atkins said the district she represents will have little bearing on how she manages the caucus.
“We are Californians first,” Atkins said. “I’ve had good conversations with my colleagues, and we are consistently unified that we are all doing the work of California,” she added.
A Virginia native whose vowels still bear the slight twang of her upbringing, Atkins served on the San Diego City Council and as interim mayor before winning election to the Legislature in 2010.
Atkins said her priorities this year, including during budget negotiations, will not differ from the framework already set forth by Assembly Democrats.
“I think our caucus agenda has been set,” she said.
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.