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Toni Atkins Prepares To Lead California Senate

February 12, 2018 1:37 p.m.

Toni Atkins Prepares To Lead California Senate


Toni Atkins, incoming California Senate president pro tem

Related Story: Toni Atkins Prepares To Lead California Senate


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> State Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego is about to make California history next month when she becomes state Senate leader. She is the first woman to retain that leadership position and the first person in modern state history to have led both houses of the legislature. Despite Senator at Cannes's fast descent through senator ranks, some of her key legislation is now stalled or threatened. There is a major effort to repeal the gas tax she championed and her single-payer healthcare proposal for California is not expected to come up again this legislative session. Joining me now is state Senator Toni Atkins, incoming Senate president pro tem. Senator Adkins, thank you for joining us.
>> It is good to be here.
>> This is the first time in more than 100 years, that some you will have led both the assembly and the Senate. What priorities do you have now as leader that you could not get on in the assembly?
>> Policy priorities continue. It took me about seven years to get money for housing for state Bill two. You have to be focused and tenacious and you continue to move forward and you work on the policies that you know the constituents one comes support and need. I will continue to do that. I will do it as a leader, certainly helping my colleagues be able to make their goals successful policy wise. And so there is a long list of issues that need to continue to have focus.
>> Can you give me one or two?
>> Sure. Healthcare. We need to make sure the healthcare plan -- the Affordable Care Act still is supported and underway in California. We need to look at things like the independent mandate which helped fund the system. You know I supported SB562, the issue around single-payer. It has hit a roadblock. I am optimistic we will continue the conversation on that. We looked at it for two reasons. One, fear about what is happening in Washington DC that could take healthcare away. California has done better than any other state under the affordable healthcare act. But we want to make sure we will continue to have that. Nationally, there is a discussion about single-payer or universal healthcare. I think it really is a discussion about -- how do you make sure it is sustainable long-term. That is what we are talking about and California. Hit a roadblock. We are not done talking about this issue. But it is not going to happen overnight or over a year.
>> I read you will not be bringing thissingle-payer idea up again this session. You say that is because you want to build bridges. I know Speaker Rendon got death threats after blocking the bill from coming on the floor of the assembly. What is your relationship with -- like after that bill with the leader of the assembly and how do you rebuild that?
>> Speaker Rendon and I have a good relationship. We worked together in the assembly. He was part of my leadership team. You followed me. We have had other difficult policy issues that we worked through. He took the hard position that this is not ready to move forward. He did not say it was done. I believe in universal healthcare. I believepotentially and single-payer. His committees have held hearings on this. I think it is really important to use that as a basis for moving forward. So I think it is going to be difficult to heal some of the relationships. The one with speaker Rendon, I am not concerned about. We have a good relationship.
>> There are currently three senators under investigation for sexual misconduct. Do you have any criticism for the way the current Senate leader, Kevin DeLeon, has overseen the chamber before the #metoo movement came?
>> What I have said is the system is obviously not working. I would also say that whatever system is in place throughout society is not working either in terms of protecting does not just women, but men. I don't necessarily have criticism because this movement came upon us and I think it is an incredible opportunity to figure out how we are going to structurally fix the system. And that is going to take a little bit of time. It is going to take evaluating processes that we have in place that clearly have not worked. Because we have a zero tolerance policy in place already. It is obviously not working. And there is talk about whether this system has really served to protect the institution. I would say no. It hasn't. If you are not protecting workers, you are not protecting an institution. I think that there has not been the support in place to really have women be able to speak. And finally -- enough is enough. We are done. We are going to make our voices heard, which gives us the opening and not just the legislature but society in general, to actually look at how we use this opportunity -- this once in a lifetime opportunity with the kind of support you are seeing -- it did not happen when Anita Hill came forward. There was no critical support to help and support her in that movement at that time. This is a real movement. And I intend to be committed, focused and really want to make lasting change. That is going to take us a little bit of time. These investigations need to happen and they need to conclude and we need to evaluate how we will move forward and integrate that in a better fashion toprotect the workers.
>> I want to move onto the gas tax. The Republican campaign against the gas text. Almost enough signatures to get on the ballot. A recent poll said about half of likely voters support the repeal. So is the gas tax in trouble?
>> I think it is definitely an uphill battle and campaign. I think the gas tax has a much simpler message than probably the side which means, we need to figure out how to pave the roads and fix potholes. This is about infrastructure. You really need to focus in and show that this is money going directly to fixing the streets and roads. And, there is a measure on the ballot that will say that it is a lockbox. Protect the money. People have been concerned that money specifically for roads has been diverted. There is a long conversation about how it was and it was diverted to pay debt service to transportation bonds.
>> How do you get that more complicated message out?
>> That is the campaign. You do it by talking to communities and person-to-person. I go to community meetings all the time. I am happy to have a long conversation about it. It takes a little time. We need to let people know that what we are doing is really fixing the street in front of their house to.
>> One last question. What does it mean for San Diego that a legislator from our area is leaving the Senate?
>> I am mindful that I have a responsibility to women, as the first woman leader in the Senate. And frankly, to the LGBT community. I represent the community proudly as well. And to San Diego. Historically, you have had a lot of leaders from the Bay Area and Los Angeles. When I was the speaker from San Diego -- I was the first speaker. I will be the second time. Jim Mills, several decades ago -- he is still in Coronado. He is a constituent. You see his name on so many things. The Mills act and the transportation system. I am mindful that I have big shoes to fill even as a San Diego in. I am incredibly excited. I want us to be part of the conversation. I want the state of California to realize -- and I get to carry this message, San Diego carries a lot through the economy. We have a lot going on here. I am proud, honored and excited to carry the banner for all of California.
>> I have been speaking with State Senator Toni Atkins. Thank you so much.
>> Thank you, Maureen.