Jan 22, 2024 - News

San Diego's Toni Atkins enters 2026 California governor race

Toni Atkins announced her bid for governor Friday in San Diego. Photo: Bryan Giardinelli/[email protected]

Toni Atkins, president pro tem of the state Senate, is seeking to become California's next governor in 2026.

Why it matters: If elected, the longtime San Diego leader would become the state's first woman and LGBTQ+ governor.

  • She is already the first woman and first openly gay person to have held both of the state Legislature's top jobs.

Driving the news: Atkins, 61, launched her campaign Friday at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park.

  • She is the fourth Democrat to join the crowded race to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

State of play: Throughout her political career, Atkins has positioned herself as a staunch affordable housing advocate and often referenced her childhood experiences in rural Virginia, where she grew up in a household that lacked running water.

Plus: She worked in the state Senate to streamline the process for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to obtain state-issued identity documents that accurately reflect their gender.

  • Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she has also pushed to pass over a dozen bills protecting abortion seekers and providers.

Catch up quick: Atkins, the daughter of a miner and a seamstress, began her political career in 1993 as a City Council aide in San Diego. She then served eight years on City Council representing the city's District 3 from 2000.

  • She was elected in 2010 to the state Assembly, later becoming majority leader and speaker.
  • In 2016 she was elected to the state Senate and has served as president pro tem since 2018.

Of note: CalMatters reports Atkins has accepted over $1.8 million from the labor sector and more than $1.4 million from the finance, insurance and real estate industries.

The intrigue: Atkins would be the first governor from San Diego since Republican Pete Wilson, who served in the 1990s.

What they're saying: "Growing up, I never considered running for office — I was too poor, too gay, & too different," Atkins posted on X. "But here, I found my own slice of the CA dream — & I'm ready to help everyone, no matter their background, do the same."

  • "In 2026, we have the opportunity to elect a governor who understands, and has lived, the challenges facing Californians struggling to get by and trying to get ahead," she said in her speech Friday.

What we're watching: In her bid for governor, Atkins will face candidates including Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and former state Controller Betty Yee.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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