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Will Atkins Become California’s First Openly Lesbian Assembly Speaker?

by Matthew S. Bajko
Thursday Dec 26, 2013
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Assemblywoman Toni Atkins
Assemblywoman Toni Atkins  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Speculation in Sacramento is intensifying around the prospect of seeing the first lesbian lawmaker be elected to the powerful Assembly speaker position in the new year.

In March 2010 gay Assemblyman John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) became the first out person to lead the Legislature’s lower body. His election that January marked the first time since 1994 that an LGBT lawmaker had been elected to lead any state or federal legislative body in the country.

Perez will be termed out of his Assembly seat next December and is running to become state controller. He recently told the Los Angeles Times that he expects to step down as speaker next summer.

He pointed to the end of June or early July as a "natural transition point" to pass on the gavel. It is widely expected that lesbian Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) will be elected to succeed Perez.

"Toni currently is the favorite to assume the speakership next fall," Scott Lay, who tracks the state Legislature for the Around the Capitol website, told the Bay Area Reporter last week.

Others said to be eyeing the speakership are freshmen Assemblymen Jimmie Gomez (D-Northeast Los Angeles) and Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), although Lay predicted, "either is more likely to openly compete for the position in 2016, when Atkins is termed out. As part of the first class elected under the new 12-year term limits, neither needs to be in a hurry."

Atkins spokesman Dale Kelly Bankhead did not respond to the B.A.R.’s request for comment by press time Monday, December 23.

In an interview last week with the B.A.R. to discuss LGBT-related legislation he’s working on for the coming year, gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said he is "working hard" to see that Atkins be elected to succeed Perez.

"She would be the first lesbian speaker," or at least "the first ’out’ one," Ammiano noted.

Termed out of office next December, Ammiano added that his support of Atkins is tied to ensuring there is continued LGBT leadership in the statehouse.

"That’s part of what we all do," he said. "When you’re elected, you also empower people so that when you’re gone, there’s consistency there."

Gay Groups Endorse in SF Assembly Race

Two prominent LGBT political groups have picked opposite candidates to back in the hotly contested race for Ammiano’s Assembly seat covering San Francisco’s eastern neighborhoods.

The political action committee for statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality California has endorsed gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos for the city’s 17th Assembly District seat.

Meanwhile, the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance’s PAC chose to support straight District 3 Supervisor David Chiu in his bid to succeed Ammiano.

Earlier this fall the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club gave an early endorsement to Campos, as it has made electing him to the state Legislature a top priority next year.

The city’s more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club has yet to schedule its endorsement vote in the race but will likely hold it in March. Judging from the numerous club members who attended an LGBT fundraiser this fall for Chiu, it would appear he has an edge in securing the club’s support.

GAPA’s endorsement of Chiu was not that surprising, as it has long backed his political campaigns. It gave him its second choice backing during the 2011 mayoral race; it chose gay mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty, a former supervisor, as its first place pick.

"David Chiu has been a long standing partner, supporter, and advocate for the LGBT and LGBT API Community. GAPA has endorsed David Chiu before as a supervisor and the organizational relationship remains strong," GAPA Co-Chair Benjamin Leong told the B.A.R. "He has been there for us as an ally and whether he’s straight, gay, or bi it was his record and support that got the GAPA PAC to recommend an endorsement to the board. And it was through the review of his track record and his connection with the GAPA community that helped get him the endorsement."

In weighing the two candidate’s LGBT-related legislative work, EQCA determined that Campos had the "greater" track record, said EQCA Executive Director John O’Connor.

"He has been more of a champion on advancing LGBT equality," he said. "We are so proud to have two great candidates on our issues and to have to split hairs on this."

EQCA’s PAC was criticized during the 2012 election cycle (before O’Connor was hired) for endorsing a straight Los Angeles-area assemblywoman who was a former EQCA board member in a race against a lesbian candidate. Going into this year’s endorsement process, Campos said he didn’t take EQCA’s support as a given.

"We are fighting for every endorsement and we never make any assumptions one way or the other," he said. "We took this process very seriously and we went in there to make our case. We are very proud they agreed to support us."

As an out gay man, Campos said it "means a lot" to receive the EQCA PAC’s support.

"It is one of the premier civil rights organizations in the state, and to have their support as an openly gay man means a great deal to me personally," he said.

O’Connor acknowledged that seeing LGBT candidates be elected to the statehouse was a factor in the PAC’s deliberations on the endorsement of Campos.

"It is a factor but a co-factor amongst others. They are both great on our issues," said O’Connor, later adding that, "a powerful LGBT legislative caucus in Sacramento is very important to EQCA advancing its mission. So there is that as well."

As the B.A.R. noted in an online Political Notes column, Chiu would like to be a member of the LGBT caucus if he is elected. But the caucus restricts its membership only to LGBT lawmakers, and it is unclear if it would lift that restriction to admit Chiu.

In the release last week announcing GAPA’s support, Chiu’s campaign also disclosed he had received an early endorsement from the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

Its chair, Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-San Jose), stated that Chiu’s "solid reputation as a consensus-builder" would be "a tremendous asset" in the Assembly and that Chiu would bring a "fresh perspective that will lead to great accomplishments in California."


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook’s online companion. This week’s column reported on plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of SF’s "Winter of Love" this February

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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