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California Senate Democrats choose North Coast lawmaker as next leader


Aug 28, 2023

McGuire to succeed state Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins next year

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State Sen. Mike McGuire, a moderate North Coast Democrat, will be the next leader of the California Senate, winning enough votes Monday from his colleagues in a leadership succession in sharp contrast to the divisive contest in the Assembly.

McGuire was chosen after a weekend of vote-whipping to replace Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, who will be termed out next year.

Atkins, during a joint news conference, said McGuire been a “partner by my side” in many legislative and political battles. She also stressed her strong desire to have a respectful and unified transition.

“You may ask, ‘Why now, why today?’” Atkins told reporters. “A big reason for the decision today is because the caucus concluded that a long, drawn-out successor campaign would not be in the best interest of the Senate, nor the people who were elected to represent.”McGuire’s term would be brief — no more than 2 ½ years, since he’s termed out in 2026. He and Atkins are negotiating a transition that could begin as soon as January, though the exact timing wasn’t specified.The decision came after a relatively short period of whipping votes and some brief discussions Monday.

McGuire edged out other candidates, including Monique Limón; John Laird; María Elena Durazo; and Steve Padilla.McGuire and Atkins emerged together after a closed-door caucus meeting, which lasted about two hours.“We are going to work hand in glove with the pro tem to finish out the important work that we’ve all fought so hard for this year,” McGuire said.His ascension comes after months of growing speculation about who would follow Atkins, the first woman and openly gay lawmaker to hold the post. He had pitched himself as an interim leader who can serve as a bridge between an outgoing class of veteran senators and a large group of newer members — some with future leadership aspirations of their own.

The process was devoid of the drama and prolonged leadership clash that just played out in the Assembly, where Speaker Robert Rivas pushed out Anthony Rendon in a fight that fractured the caucus. The Senate leadership contest was worked out within roughly 24 hours of McGuire telling colleagues he had secured the votes. Many senators and staffers also said they had hoped to avoid the Assembly’s fate.

Still, there was some consternation from fellow senators about the process, with members raising concerns about a rushed decision with an uncertain timeline, according to one lawmaker who attended the caucus meeting.

McGuire’s coalition was largely driven by more moderate-leaning senators, including several on their way out the door. That means he will likely face pressure to include more progressives as well as people of color, women and LGBTQ members in his leadership team.

The incoming pro tem — who represents a sprawling North Coast district, from Marin County to the Oregon border — has been a member of Atkins’ leadership team as the chamber’s majority leader since 2022, a role that often has him conducting traffic on the Senate floor.

Before McGuire was elected to the Senate in 2014, he was a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and served as mayor of Healdsburg.

The succession push comes as Atkins weighs her own political options outside of the Legislature. She has been actively fundraising for a lieutenant governor committee, but is also seen as a potential contender for the 2026 governor’s race.

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