Leader of California Senate Announces Resignation, First Openly Gay Woman to Step Down
The leader of the California Senate, Toni Atkins, announced on Monday that she will step down from her leadership post, ending her historic tenure as the first woman and first openly gay person to lead the upper legislative chamber in the nation’s most populous state. Atkins, a Democrat hailing from San Diego, stated that she will relinquish her role next year, with Senator Mike McGuire, a Democrat from the state’s North Coast region, set to replace her as the Senate’s president pro tempore.
In a news conference, Atkins revealed her decision with McGuire and most of the Senate Democratic Caucus standing behind her, showcasing unity among the lawmakers. This display of harmony starkly contrasts the leadership battle witnessed in the state Assembly last year, when Robert Rivas replaced former speaker Anthony Rendon. Scrupulously considering the best interests of the Senate and their constituents, Atkins and the caucus chose to announce the leadership transition promptly rather than engaging in a prolonged successor campaign that could impede their crucial legislative work.
As one of the most influential positions in California politics, the leader of the California Senate plays a pivotal role as the principal negotiator between the Senate, the governor, and the Assembly speaker on essential legislation and the state’s annual operating budget, which exceeds $300 billion. Atkins holds a distinguished status as one of the three individuals in history to hold both top positions within the Legislature, having served as the speaker of the state Assembly from 2014 to 2016 before assuming the leadership of the Senate in 2018.
McGuire, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, has emerged as a prominent critic of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the largest utility company in the United States. With numerous wildfires ignited due to the utility’s equipment leading to multiple fatalities and the destruction of thousands of homes, McGuire has been vocal in addressing the issue. He gained further recognition in 2019 by spearheading a law that compelled presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns to qualify for the California ballot. Although the provision targeting presidential candidates was invalidated by the courts, the law still holds for gubernatorial candidates.
Lauding Atkins as a “California trailblazer,” McGuire vowed to continue her efforts, particularly focusing on climate change, housing, and access to abortion. However, he emphasized that Atkins would remain the governing force. With unity at the forefront, McGuire reassured, “There is one leader, one leader at a time. And our leader here in the California state Senate is Toni Atkins. The pro tem and I, we are unified in our transition.” He pledged that the remaining three weeks of the legislative session, during which hundreds of bills are to be voted upon, would be executed smoothly and effectively, prioritizing the prosperity of the Golden State.
McGuire, known widely throughout the state Capitol for his seemingly boundless energy, a quality that has earned him the nickname of the “Energizer Bunny,” according to veteran lobbyist Chris Micheli, assumes the Senate’s highest position. This unique dynamic grants the Legislature two leaders hailing from predominantly rural regions of California, a rarity in a state traditionally dominated by urban centers like Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Rivas, who assumed the Assembly speakership earlier this summer, represents a district in the predominantly agricultural Central Coast region, while McGuire’s district spans from the northern end of the San Francisco Bay to the Oregon border.
With a focus on addressing long-standing disparities, Jennifer Fearing, a seasoned lobbyist from Fearless Advocacy, a firm representing nonprofit organizations, expressed anticipation for the potential impact of the leaders’ representation of overlooked areas in the state. McGuire’s tenure will be relatively brief, as he will be obligated to leave office in 2026 due to term limits.
With Democrats holding 32 out of the 40 seats in the state Legislature, granting them full control over which bills can pass, the Republican leader in the Senate, State Sen. Brian Jones, acknowledged McGuire’s respect for differing viewpoints. Jones stated, “He has shown a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner, and we are excited to continue this cooperation.”
Atkins’s imminent departure marks the end of an era, reflecting California’s commitment to inclusivity and progress as she paved the way for future generations of diverse leaders in the state’s political landscape.