SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP and KQED) — The California State Assembly voted Monday to make San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins its next speaker, replacing John Pérez. Atkins will be the third woman to lead the Assembly, and the first out lesbian to serve in the role. Pérez, who became Assembly speaker four years ago, was its first openly gay leader.
A transition date has not been set, but Atkins will assume the role later this spring. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, is termed out this year and running for state controller.
Atkins, the Democratic majority leader, was elected to run the 80-member Assembly by unanimous voice vote. As majority leader, she will appoint members to committees and subcommittees, establish committee schedules, and allocate funds and staffing.
Democratic lawmakers praised her commitment to social justice and the diversity she brings to the job.
She called her election as speaker "surreal."
"It was honestly never in my world vision that I could do this," the L.A. Times reported her as saying. "So it's an incredible personal honor."
"I suspect her humble beginnings growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia prepared her to appreciate the needs of the less fortunate and to give them a voice in the halls of power, which she has done," said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena.
Republicans said they work well with Atkins despite policy differences.
"Though we hold different political views, she and I have had a very cordial and productive working relationship as the leaders of our respective caucuses," Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway said in a news release.
Atkins told her fellow lawmakers that her priorities include stabilizing the state budget, addressing the state's long-term water needs and improving the economy. She said she'd take a special interest in reducing homelessness and affordable housing issues.
The chamber she will lead has a Democratic supermajority, with nearly half of all Assembly members first elected in 2012.
She won her seat in 2010 after serving on the San Diego City Council, including a stint as interim mayor, and has two years remaining before her term expires.
The California State Senate is expected to choose Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, as its new leader, as Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg also terms out.