State Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego was sworn-in as president pro tem on March 21, 2018. / Courtesy of Atkins’ office
State Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego was sworn-in as president pro tem on March 21, 2018. / Courtesy of Atkins’ office

Toni Atkins of San Diego this week became the top Democratic leader in the state Senate, meaning two women from the San Diego region lead both parties in California’s upper house.

Atkins, the first woman and first openly gay state lawmaker to lead the state Senate, was sworn in Wednesday as the new senate president pro tem at the Capitol. To mark the historic significance of Atkins’ new post, a group of female senators from both sides of the aisle, including California Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates, escorted Atkins to the rostrum.

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As Atkins accepted the gavel from former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leόn, she stressed how their mutual humble beginnings — hers as “the daughter of a poor Virginia coal miner” and seamstress, his as “the son of a poor Mexican housekeeper” — have shaped their work and will continue to inform her vision.

“We must ensure that every person living in California — no matter how they look, who they love or where their parents were born — can climb life’s ladder, live out loud and be whoever they want to be, without being demeaned, downsized or discriminated against,” Atkins said.

She noted that electing women to leadership positions is not enough to change a culture where state lawmakers have confronted “some hard truths about our duty to each other and to our employees,” referencing the series of sexual harassment allegations that have enveloped the Capitol in recent months and resulted in the resignations of three state lawmakers.

“As duly elected representatives of the people, we must always strive to lead by example,” Atkins said. “To some extent, we bear the burden of past sins too often swept under the rug. We can’t change the past. But we can and should be judged on how we shape the future.”

Prior to being elected to the state Senate in 2016, Atkins was in the state Assembly from 2010 to 2016, including as Assembly Speaker from 2014 to 2016. She served on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008.

Several San Diegans attended Wednesday’s ceremony: Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Sheriff Bill Gore and former Assemblywoman and state Sen. Christine Kehoe, a mentor to Atkins. As de Leόn stood to one side of Atkins during her speech, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whom Atkins recently endorsed for governor, was on her other side.

Atkins noted Bates during her acceptance speech and said she was honored to become the senate’s Democratic leader while a woman is also leading Senate Republicans.

“Pat Bates and I aren’t always ideological soulmates, but we are soul sisters who both love California,” Atkins said. “And I’m excited about what we can accomplish together.”

Bates, who represents portions of Orange and San Diego counties, was among the handful of lawmakers who spoke on the senate floor before Atkins’ swearing-in. She shared an anecdote about Atkins calling her and offering to work with her and Republicans.

“We really need to do more of that,” Bates said. “Without that, we will not serve our constituents well. We have the opportunity with Sen. Atkins.”

Yes, they’re from different parties, but does the region benefit from having two residents in top leadership posts in Sacramento? Maybe, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, professor of the practice of public policy communication at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

“On issues where they agree, it’s a powerful duo,” said Bebitch Jeffe, noting a meaningful alliance is more likely on local issues like infrastructure or funding for UC San Diego. “Perhaps it’s a more open, easy conversation between the two leaders.”

Hueso Wants Better Safeguards to Stop Elder Abuse

State Sen. Ben Hueso said law enforcement officers need more training to better identify instances of elder abuse.

That’s why he’s proposed SB 1191, which would require that California’s elder abuse laws are included in all law enforcement training manuals so that officers recognize the signs of an older person or dependent adult in trouble and not receiving proper care — like being left alone or without food and water.

Anyone who allows or inflicts physical or mental suffering on an elder or dependent adult is guilty of a misdemeanor, according to state law. But that information is too frequently left out of law enforcement training materials, said Hueso, a San Diego Democrat.

The proposed legislation would help ensure officers can better spot the crime of abuse or neglect and protect victims.

“When somebody is in somebody else’s care, they’re often very vulnerable,” Hueso said by phone. “They can be left for long periods of time without attention.”

Hueso added that he’s grown increasingly concerned about reports of elder abuse in his district and across the state.

The bill has been assigned to the state Senate’s Standing Committee on Public Safety for an April 3 hearing.

Another bill recently introduced by Hueso, SB 1181, aims to expedite the process for deploying at-risk youth in California’s certified Local Conservation Corps to respond to disasters, as a way to address the shortage of emergency response services, Hueso said.

SB 1181 has a hearing scheduled for April 10 before the Senate Standing Committee on Governmental Organization.

Golden State News

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a steady lead while Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox rises to second place in the gubernatorial race. (Sacramento Bee)

California politicians call for action, dismayed at what can be done about use of Facebook data. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Facebook users, furious that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained their personal data without consent, call for accountability from the social network giant as users share intentions to delete accounts. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Was Newsom always a staunch defender of immigrant rights? (Mercury News)

Californians appointed to state posts could soon be barred from writing checks to lawmakers who vote on their nomination. (Los Angeles Times)

Gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and his campaigns have benefited from groups that critics say prey upon the poor and people of color. (Los Angeles Times)

Jerry Brown and California’s war with President Trump. (The New Yorker)

And another take on “the last days of Jerry Brown” as governor. (The California Sunday Magazine)

Marisa Agha is a journalist based in Southern California.

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