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First woman LGBT lawmaker to lead California Senate

Issued: 2018-03-21

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, right, smiles up at the Senate Gallery after she was sworn in as the new Senate President pro tempore, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Atkins replaces former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, left. In the center is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom applauds Atkins, who becomes the first woman to lead the California Senate. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, right, is sworn in as the new president pro tempore of the Senate by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, second from right, at the Capitol, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Looking on is former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, left, Jennifer LeSar, Atkin's spouse, second from left, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Atkins becomes the first woman to lead the California Senate. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, center is is hugged by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, after she was sworn in as the new Senate president pro tempore Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. In the background Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom applauds Atkins who becomes the first woman to lead the California Senate. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sen. Toni Atkins became the first woman and first LGBT person to lead the California Senate on Wednesday, pledging to work toward changing the Capitol culture amid a reckoning over sexual misconduct.

A rainbow flag representing gay pride hung next to the California and U.S. flags in the Capitol rotunda as the San Diego Democrat was formally elected Senate pro tempore and took the oath of office, administered by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

"It's the first time. And it's about time," said Atkins, who is a lesbian. But, she said, "I came to the Senate to make progress, not history."

Atkins takes over as the Legislature faces ongoing scrutiny over its handling of sexual misconduct, upcoming budget negotiations and the 2018 elections.

Democrats lost supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly when three lawmakers resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Some lobbyists and female legislative staffers have fiercely criticized the Legislature for fostering a culture where women don't feel comfortable coming forward to report sexual harassment or abuse.

"To some extent, we bear the burden of past sins too often swept under the rug," Atkins said. "We can't change the past. But we can and we should be judged on how we shape the future."

Her election as president pro tem is a return to legislative leadership for the 55-year-old Atkins, who was Assembly speaker from 2014 to 2016. She ran a women's health clinic in San Diego before turning full time to local and state politics.

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