The leader of the California Senate announced on Monday her intention to step down from her leadership role, marking the conclusion of a historic tenure as the first woman and openly gay individual to head the upper legislative chamber of the most populous state in the nation.
Toni Atkins, a Democrat hailing from San Diego, disclosed that she will vacate her position in the coming year. Senator Mike McGuire, a fellow Democrat representing the state’s North Coast region, will take over as the Senate’s president pro tempore.
Making the announcement alongside McGuire and a majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Atkins showcased a united front. This unity stood in stark contrast to the internal leadership conflict that unfolded in the state Assembly the previous year, resulting in the succession of Robert Rivas as the new speaker, replacing the former speaker Anthony Rendon.
Due to term limits, Atkins is unable to seek re-election and is slated to exit the Senate by the close of the following year. The decision to reveal the transition now was attributed to the caucus’ desire to avoid an extended and divisive succession campaign that would not serve the best interests of the Senate or its constituents.
Atkins expressed the need to prioritize the substantial workload in the upcoming weeks, alluding to the frenzied final days of the Legislative session during which legislators will deliberate on numerous bills. She emphasized that the pressing legislative tasks do not align well with the prominence of internal caucus politics.
The position of the California Senate leader holds significant influence within the state’s political landscape, entailing roles such as the primary negotiator with the governor and Assembly speaker on crucial legislation and the state’s annual operating budget exceeding $300 billion.
Notably, Atkins is one of only three individuals in history to occupy both of the Legislature’s top roles. Her leadership in the Senate commenced in 2018, following her stint as speaker of the state Assembly from 2014 to 2016.
McGuire, elected to the Senate in 2014, is recognized for his vocal criticism of Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility company linked to numerous catastrophic wildfires resulting in fatalities and property loss. In 2019, McGuire took a stand against former Republican President Donald Trump by spearheading a law that mandated presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns to appear on California’s ballot. Although the portion of the law applying to presidential candidates was invalidated by the courts, it remains applicable to gubernatorial candidates.
Praising Atkins as a pioneering force in California, McGuire pledged to continue her work, particularly in the realms of climate change, housing, and abortion accessibility. While acknowledging Atkins’ ongoing leadership, he clarified his own position.
“There is one leader, one leader at a time. And our leader here in the California state Senate is Toni Atkins,” he affirmed. McGuire’s intent is to ensure a seamless and productive transition, guaranteeing the success of the state.
Known for his tireless energy, McGuire’s ascent to the Senate’s top position introduces a situation where both legislative chambers are led by representatives of predominantly rural parts of California. This is a rare occurrence in a state where political power has traditionally been concentrated in the densely populated urban areas of Southern California and the San Francisco Bay.
Rivas, who recently assumed the role of Assembly speaker, represents a district in the primarily agricultural Central Coast region. McGuire’s district encompasses the northern expanse of the San Francisco Bay up to the Oregon border.
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Prominent lobbyist Chris Micheli coined McGuire as the “Energizer Bunny,” encapsulating his seemingly boundless dynamism within the state Capitol.
McGuire’s tenure in this capacity will be relatively short-lived, as he is obliged to leave office after 2026 due to term limits.
With Democrats controlling 32 of the 40 seats in the state Legislature, they wield complete authority over the passage of bills. Republican leader State Sen. Brian Jones praised McGuire for his willingness to collaborate across party lines, expressing anticipation for continued cooperation.