By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
Wow. What an incredible six years this has been. When I was elected to the state Assembly in 2010, I had aspirations to represent the constituents of my district in San Diego the best way I knew how, and to help create more affordable housing, alleviate poverty, expand LGBT rights, and advocate for women, both in the doctor’s office and in the workplace.
While I have been comfortable in leadership roles, having helped guide San Diego as acting mayor during a difficult and tumultuous time, I had no idea I would later be elected Speaker of the Assembly. After all, no San Diegan had ever served as Speaker before.
But after just two years in the Assembly, in 2012 Speaker John Pérez named me Majority Leader of the Democratic caucus and less than two years after that, my colleagues elected me to succeed Speaker Pérez as the leader of the Assembly.
For Speaker Pérez and my colleagues to have shown that level of faith in my abilities was truly an honor. I can’t thank them enough for their trust and respect, as well as their hard work and collaboration.
And now my time in the Assembly is over, and thanks to the voters of the 39th Senate District, which overlaps to a large degree with my 78th Assembly District, I begin my first four-year Senate term on Dec. 5.
When I arrived in Sacramento, California was in trouble. The “great recession” had decimated our state budget. In my first year, we faced a $26-billion deficit that would be solved only by a patchwork of painful program cuts, borrowing, and creative budget maneuvers.
However, within four years, with hard work and great teamwork between Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature, with the help of California’s voters, we were able to turn the state around. In 2014, again with help from the voters, we created, and began depositing money into a rainy-day fund that will help protect California’s vital programs from the next economic downturn. We also started to restore funding to those programs that had been slashed amid the recession.
We reinvested in public schools to better prepare our children for a brighter future and expanded child care and preschool so that parents could devote their days to their jobs and provide for their families. We reinvested in colleges and universities and stopped tuition increases for California students to broaden opportunities for young residents and improve our overall economic outlook.
We created California’s first state-level Earned Income Tax Credit to augment the federal EITC — a proven anti-poverty tool. We also strengthened our business climate with widespread tax credits for job creation, plus targeted tax credits for the film and television and aerospace industries.
We responded to the effects of the prolonged drought with a comprehensive, $7.5-billion water bond, to ensure a system of clean and reliable water and we bolstered our commitment to fighting climate change with stronger and expanded measures to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. I was particularly proud to represent California in Paris at the international climate summit a year ago; it illustrated for me how important a global leader our state has become in protecting our planet.
We funded new affordable housing for low-income families, and again with help from voters, created a program to provide safe, permanent housing for struggling military veterans. We strengthened our commitment to full equality for members of the LGBT community. We expanded family leave and strengthened our equal-pay law. We continued to protect a woman’s reproductive rights. And we set the path to raise our minimum wage to $15 an hour to help lift individuals and families out of poverty.
Put it all together and the picture that emerges is a hopeful one. Our goal is a life for all Californians where people can raise their families in clean, safe communities; where small businesses can thrive and help grow our economy; where our children enjoy good schools and access to high-quality, affordable higher education; where everyone has access to affordable healthcare; where everyone is treated with dignity and equality no matter who they are, where they come from, or whom they love; where our children’s grandchildren can expect to live in a clean environment.
I want to thank all of my constituents for their support during these past six years. This truly is a team effort, and I can’t do it without you. From the bottom of my heart — thank you.
—Toni G. Atkins is the outgoing Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly and taking over as the California State Senator representing the 39th District. Follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.