Toni Atkins is running for California Governor to continue her work uplifting and enhancing our state — and to ensure that the California Dream is accessible to everyone.

Toni’s story started in the rural reaches of Appalachia, where she grew up one of four children to Betty and Jim Atkins.

Despite working themselves to the bone, Jim, a lead and coal miner, and Betty, a seamstress who worked in a garment factory, lived paycheck to paycheck and rented a home without running water and an outhouse to share.

Toni was a kid who got free breakfasts at school and got her first pair of glasses donated by the local Lions Club. Whose parents never had time off, and always had a doctor’s bill overdue. Who went to church camp on a scholarship and dreamed of being the first person in her family to go to college. That dream came true as she worked hard in school and graduated from Emory & Henry College in Virginia. 

Her early years taught Toni the value of a dollar — and more importantly, the values that help you get through when dollars are scarce: Doing the most good you possibly can for others. Safeguarding the most vulnerable among us. Respecting people’s decisions and protecting their dignity. 

Toni first heard about California from her father, who reminisced about a beautiful place where he was stationed while serving in World War II.

She daydreamed about one day going there while working in a dry cleaners — until the day she got a call from her twin sister, Tenia, who was stationed in San Diego while serving in the Navy. It was the mid-1980’s, and Tenia’s Navy husband was being deployed. Tenia was soon to deliver their first child, and needed help. Toni packed her car and set out from Virginia to California to help her sister and their newborn son. 

She came to California to help her twin. She stayed to help millions more. 

At just 27, she was named the Director of Clinic Services at San Diego’s Womancare Health Center, where she helped low-income women access reproductive care — even when anti-abortion extremists tried to block access. Years later as a legislator, Toni proudly wrote laws that removed obstacles keeping women from getting the health care they needed, especially in rural areas and other underserved communities. And after the gut-wrenching Dobbs decision leaked, she wrote the constitutional amendment to protect the right to abortion and contraception for generations to come — and led the effort with Planned Parenthood and other grassroots clinics and organizations to ensure it was approved by a majority of California voters. 

After working in the women’s clinic, Toni went to work as a staff member at City Hall, later running and winning a seat on the City Council in 2000, where she passed San Diego’s first living wage law.

When the Mayor of San Diego resigned during a period of crisis, Toni served as acting Mayor and helped San Diego successfully navigate the scandal.

Elected by voters to the state Assembly in 2010, Toni served there for six years. In 2014, her colleagues selected her to be the Speaker of the Assembly, becoming the first San Diegan and the first lesbian to hold the position. As someone who grew up in a house without running water, Toni counts passing a $7.5-billion investment in clean, safe and reliable drinking water supplies as one of her proudest accomplishments as Speaker of the Assembly.

In 2016, San Diego voters elected her to the State Senate — and after just one year, she was again selected by her colleagues to serve as Senate President pro Tempore, becoming the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to lead the Legislature’s upper house. Atkins is the first person in 150 years, the third person in California history, and the only woman to lead both houses of the Legislature.

During her time in the Legislature, she negotiated eight on-time balanced budgets with two Governors, building record reserves without raising taxes on working people. As a leader, she negotiated the passage of historic climate goals and increased access to health care.

Toni has worked to create good-paying jobs and bolster worker protections, and she’s expanded educational opportunities so that nothing gets in the way of California’s children being able to learn. She’s a champion for affordable housing, the environment, health care, veterans, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. She has led legislative efforts to protect victims of crime, including children being trafficked and women facing domestic violence. These are the people and causes she’s spent a lifetime fighting for, driven by the values that will continue to guide her campaign for Governor.

Like people all across our state, she’s struggled to get by and she’s tried her best to get ahead, over obstacles that felt endless. And in 2026, we have the opportunity to elect a governor who understands and has lived the challenges facing Californians today. 

As Toni says, you shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to make it in California — you should only have a dream, and people who care enough to help you reach it.

Toni Atkins lives in San Diego with her spouse, Jennifer, and their dogs, Joey and Mia.

photo (generic)