December 4, 2023

By ADAM BEAM  | Related Press

SACRAMENTO  — The primary time Toni Atkins acted because the governor of California, she used her powers to honor the passing of San Diego Padres baseball participant Tony Gwynn whereas playfully rebuffing Jimmy Kimmel’s recommendation that she “ invade Oregon. ”

It was 2014, and Atkins — the primary lesbian to be the speaker of the state Meeting — was filling in for former Gov. Jerry Brown, a quirk of the California Structure that requires governors to place another person in cost each time they depart the state.

Atkins, now the president professional tempore of the state Senate, has stuffed in as governor a number of extra occasions since then, most lately in July when she signed three payments into legislation and quipped that she was thrilled to as soon as once more step into the governor’s footwear, “ though I’ve higher footwear. ”

Now, the 61-year-old lawmaker is popping her consideration as soon as once more to the governor’s workplace — solely this time, she’s exploring a for much longer keep.

“I’m very taken with taking a look at that chance” of operating for governor, Atkins informed The Related Press in an interview, saying publicly for the primary time what many have assumed since she introduced she would step down because the Senate’s prime chief subsequent 12 months. “I’m taking a look at it significantly.”

The race to exchange Gov. Gavin Newsom will doubtless be a Democratic free-for-all positive to draw the social gathering’s prime expertise for the possibility to guide the nation’s most populous state and the world’s fifth largest financial system. California voters have by no means elected a lady to the governor’s workplace, nor an individual who’s brazenly LGBTQ. And a number of different Democratic candidates are additionally vying to make historical past.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis was the primary to formally announce her candidacy only a few months into Newsom’s second time period. Tony Thurmond, the Black state superintendent of public instruction, can also be in, together with former Controller Betty Yee. Legal professional Normal Rob Bonta, who’s Filipino, has stated he’s significantly contemplating a run.

However Atkins is banking on her expertise to present her an edge. That features a temporary stint as mayor of San Diego, one of many nation’s largest cities. And it contains changing into simply the third individual and first girl ever to carry each of the Legislature’s prime jobs: speaker of the Meeting and president professional tempore of the Senate, the place she negotiated eight state working budgets and had her fingers in numerous main coverage choices.

“I kind of really feel like I’m hooked on duty,” she stated. “I believe expertise counts and issues, and I consider I’ve expertise to proceed to contribute in a roundabout way.”

California’s prime legislative leaders are a few of the strongest individuals within the state, but it surely usually doesn’t really feel prefer it. Whereas they negotiate main polices, it’s the governor who will get the eye when the offers are completed.

That’s very true for Atkins, who has been a extra quiet chief than most. Throughout her tenure as Senate chief, Democrats have grown their caucus to 32 out of 40 seats — their largest majority since 1883. That majority means there’s little incentive to work with Republicans. However Atkins made positive Republicans had their payments heard in public hearings and even pushed for former Republican Chief Shannon Grove to be included in briefings with the Newsom administration.

“She all the time included us and there was by no means any surprises. I didn’t agree with what was occurring, however we had enter and participation,” stated Grove, who famous she and Atkins bonded over their impoverished upbringing and a shared love of nation music icon Dolly Parton. “She understands that we characterize a portion of Californians as properly and we have been duly elected and due to this fact our voices ought to be heard.”

Atkins grew up in rural southwest Virginia, the place her dad was a miner and her mom was a seamstress. Her childhood dwelling didn’t have operating water, and a few of her earliest reminiscences are of strolling down a hill along with her twin sister to fetch water from a spring to make use of for cooking and doing laundry.

As a younger lesbian in Appalachia, Atkins dreamed of transferring to California. She obtained her likelihood when her twin sister joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. Atkins moved there to assist take care of her sister’s younger son, and by no means left.