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Emerging from a closed-door meeting of Assembly Democrats, Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said his caucus unanimously supports making Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the next Speaker.

The announcement ends months of speculation about who would take over the leadership post once Pérez leaves office at the end of 2014. Pérez emphasized the fact that not a single member of the 55-member Democratic caucus dissented from the selection of Atkins.

"It was unanimous going into the room, it was unanimous coming out of the room," Pérez said. "There was absolute unanimity about peoples' support and excitement about having Ms. Atkins as the next speaker.

A formal vote will come some time in the spring, Pérez said. The timeline for Atkins formally taking over has not been fixed.

"It's the work of transition that will dictate the timeline," Pérez said. "It is not an insignificant institution."

The selection of Atkins marks a few milestones: it is the first time an openly gay woman will lead either chamber of the California Legislature. Atkins will also be the first lawmaker from San Diego to helm the Assembly.

With Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, set to take over as Senate president pro tem later this year, California is also on the verge of a situation with scant precedent: having both legislative leaders hail from Southern California.

While lawmakers have historically chosen a northerner to lead one house and a southern lawmaker the other, Pérez dismissed the appearance of a tradition as "an artificial construct." Atkins said the district she represents will have little bearing on how she manages the caucus.

"We are Californians first," Atkins said. "I've had good conversations with my colleagues, and we are consistently unified that we are all doing the work of California," she added.

A Virginia native whose vowels still bear the slight twang of her upbringing, Atkins served on the San Diego City Council and as interim mayor before winning election to the Legislature in 2010.

Atkins said her priorities this year, including during budget negotiations, will not differ from the framework already set forth by Assembly Democrats.

"I think our caucus agenda has been set," she said.

PHOTO: Speaker John A. Pérez, and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins discuss Atkins becoming the next speaker in the State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif. on January 22, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.


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