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California's Senate will be led by a woman for first time in history: Sen. Toni Atkins

Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), right, walks hand in hand with her spouse, Jennifer LeSar, to the rostrum when she was elected as Assembly speaker in 2014. She will be the next leader of the Senate. (Associated Press)
Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), right, walks hand in hand with her spouse, Jennifer LeSar, to the rostrum when she was elected as Assembly speaker in 2014. She will be the next leader of the Senate. (Associated Press)

State Senate leader Kevin de León said Thursday that the Senate Democratic Caucus is supporting Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) to take over for him as Senate president pro tem in 2018 after an election in January.

De León, a Los Angeles Democrat who has served as Senate leader for nearly four years, is stepping down from the leadership position as he runs against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the 2018 election for her seat in the U.S. Senate.

“Four years ago, our caucus elected the first Latino leader in over a century to lead the California state Senate — and, next year, Sen. Atkins will become our first ever woman to be elected Senate leader,” De León said in a statement.

“Toni is a leader of great experience, achievement and integrity, and I have every confidence that she will lead America's most accomplished legislative chamber to even greater heights,” De León added.

Atkins, 55, brings leadership experience to the job, having previously served as speaker of the state Assembly. She will be the third person to serve both as Assembly speaker and Senate president pro tem and the first leader of the state Senate who has come out as gay.

“Today, I am humbled by the trust my colleagues have placed in me, and I intend to earn that trust every day by working tirelessly and inclusively to keep California a place of opportunity for everyone,” Atkins said in a statement.

She noted that California has become a counter-force to the Republican policies of President Trump and Congress.

“Given our national divisions, California’s example is more important than ever — and I look forward to working with our president pro tem and all of our colleagues to ensure that the Senate continues to rise together to meet the challenges faced by the great people we represent,” Atkins said.

De León did not provide a date for the transition of leadership in 2018, saying it would happen “later in the year.”

The announcement of the first woman Senate leader comes less than a month after 140 female legislators, lobbyists, political advisors and Capitol staff members signed a letter criticizing the "pervasive" culture of sexual harassment and misconduct in state government. The signers said they had all witnessed "dehumanizing behavior by men in our workplace."

One assemblyman has resigned and two other male legislators are under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment.

Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates of Laguna Niguel noted it will be the first time both leaders of the Senate are women, and offered to work with Atkins “to substantially address the issues raised by reports concerning inappropriate behavior,” the harassment.

De León has instituted changes to address the problem, including a plan to hire an outside law firm to investigate any allegations.

During his term as leader, De León has also overseen a string of accomplishments on environmental, social and immigration issues.

"For nearly four years, it's been a profound honor to lead a unified, progressive and collaborative California state Senate. Together, we've put the public interest over individual ambitions and made enduring progress on behalf of millions of Californians,” De León said.

UPDATES:

1:20 p.m. This article was updated with information about an open letter about sexual harassment and to include a comment by Sen. Bates.

This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.

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