The inauguration filled the California Assembly chambers with an audience that included a roster of past legislative leaders, statewide officials and Gov. Jerry Brown. Former speaker Karen Bass, now a member of Congress, administered the oath to Atkins.
In her first remarks as speaker, Atkins praised California's gradual return to fiscal stability, urged more investment in education and pledged to bolster California's business climate. She won applause for lauding the enrollment success of Covered California, the state's new health insurance exchange, and reiterated her commitment to two longtime goals.
"If I have a personal priority, it is reducing homelessness and making sure we have affordable housing, not just to house the homeless but for all working Californians," Atkins said.
And with budget talks set to get underway, she touched on fiscal restraint but also talked about the need to assist California's teeming ranks of low-income residents.
"We must work to ensure stability, and that includes an adequate reserve for those rainy days when the economy again takes a downward dive," Atkins said, "and yet we must also realize that where we have our greatest challenge is at the same time expanding opportunity and lifting up the most vulnerable who have suffered a great deal and need us not to forget them now. While we have made difficult decisions during the recession, they have held on with white knuckles."
Atkins, who is 51, will also be the first Assembly speaker from San Diego since the Legislature became a full-time institution. After a working class childhood in rural Virginia, Atkins moved to San Diego and began her rise through politics with a focus on affordable housing and reproductive rights. She served on the San Diego City Council and briefly served as the city's interim mayor before winning a seat in the Assembly in 2010, building a reputation as a diligent worker.
"I'm still amazed at her endless capacity to get the job done," former Sen. Christine Kehoe, Atkins' mentor and former boss, said in introductory remarks.