With the end of the 2013-2014 legislative session and with the November election just around the corner, it is worth taking the time to remark on the changes to legislative leadership. In the Senate, Senator Darrell Steinberg, who served in the legislature for 14 years and has been the Senate President Pro-Tempore since 2009, is termed out. In his place, Senator Kevin de Leon has been elected as the incoming President Pro-Tempore. In the Assembly, Speaker John Pérez has termed out to make way for Speaker Toni Atkins.
A few days ago, de Leon celebrated taking over the Senate at a gala event in his home district of Los Angeles paid for by the California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation and attended by two thousand guests, including other elected officials and community activists. His leadership marks the beginning of an era – he is the first Latino to hold the position in well over a century. The last Latino Senate President Pro Tempore was the 19th Century Senator Reginaldo Francisco del Valle, elected to the position in 1883.
Known as a trailblazer, avid activist, and leader on controversial issues – including a twenty year history as a leading advocate for immigration reform – de Leon has no plans to abandon his political agenda in his new leadership role. In this article by Patrick McGreevy of the LA Times, de Leon is quoted "I've been thinking a lot as I enter a new phase of my life and a new leadership that provides opportunities to help improve the human condition…So I want to come in and attempt to give every kid a fair shot at the California dream." As McGreevy points out, de Leon will have to balance that agenda against his leadership role of bringing cohesiveness and collaboration to the Democratic party while brokering compromises with Assembly leadership, the Governor, and his colleagues across the aisle.
Meanwhile, in the Assembly, Toni Atkins took the leadership role earlier in the year when she was elected by her peers to serve as the 69th Speaker of the Assembly. The Speaker’s home district is in San Diego, from Imperial Beach, along the Mexican border, north to Solana Beach, and most of central San Diego. Prior to making the move to politics, Atkins served as a community clinic director. Atkins is also a trailblazer, being the first lesbian to serve as Speaker and only the second openly gay Speaker in the State’s history. She is known for her iron will, as a coalition builder, and for having a well-balanced approach to politics in part due to her well known empathy for the underserved. She is a strong advocate for women, veterans, the homeless, and affordable housing. At her swearing in, Atkins stated, “We want to ensure that the California dream is alive and well for everyone in our state, and for everyone who, like me, comes here to achieve their dream.”
It should also be noted that this is the first time in many years that the leadership in both legislative houses are from Southern California. In addition to sharing Southern California roots, backgrounds as grassroots activists, and writing history as trailblazing leaders of minority groups, de Leon and Atkins also have a shared path: both were raised in poverty, overcoming significant barriers on their way to becoming the unlikely top leaders of their party. It is not surprising that the two new leaders who so aptly epitomize the American Dream have already focused on expanding the California Dream during their respective tenures. It will be interesting to see how these unique perspectives play out in the coming years in the Legislature. De Leon is termed out in 2018 while Atkins’ term ends in 2016.
Aaron R. Maguire
Legislative Representative/Business Consultant
Warner & Pank, LLC