REGION — California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins announced the launch of her campaign for state governor to a cheering crowd of supporters this morning in San Diego.
A political trailblazer with a long history of San Diego leadership, Atkins has represented the 39th Senate district since 2016, preceded by six years in the state Assembly and eight years on the San Diego City Council.
She is the first person in 150 years to have led both houses of the legislature, and the first woman and openly gay person to do so. In this campaign for governor, she is pursuing another first.
“Many have said that in 2026, it’s finally time for California to elect a woman governor. As the most qualified candidate running for governor, who also happens to be a woman, I agree,” Atkins said Friday morning at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Atkins first announced her plans to run for governor in the fall and indicated that she would step down from her Senate leadership position in February.
The South Park resident is the fourth Democrat to announce her gubernatorial bid for 2026, along with Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, state schools superintendent Tony Thurmond and former Controller Betty Yee. Incumbent Gavin Newsom is ineligible to seek re-election due to term limits.
The daughter of a miner and a seamstress, the Virginia native first moved to San Diego in 1985. She dedicated herself to women’s health care access before starting a career in public service, serving as director of clinic services at Womancare Health Center in San Diego.
In the 1990s, Atkins served as an aide to San Diego City Councilmember Christine Kehoe, another LGBTQ trailblazer. She was elected to replace Kehoe as the city’s District 3 representative on the council in 2000.
Atkins was elected to the State Assembly in 2010 and selected as Speaker in 2014, making her the first San Diegan and first gay woman to hold the role. One year after her election to the Senate in 2016, her legislative colleagues also appointed her as president pro tem.
On Friday, she noted her history of advocacy for affordable housing, job creation, expanding educational opportunities, LGBTQIA+ rights, increasing health care access, protecting victims of domestic violence and other crimes, as well as helping the state work toward its climate goals.
She said these experiences, as well as helping to balance eight on-time state budgets, have prepared her well for the state’s highest leadership seat.
“I have stood eye-to-eye with two governors as a co-equal branch of government,” she said. “The word governor may not be in my job title, but a lot of similar work sure has been in my job descriptions.”