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Toni Atkins kicks off her campaign for state Assembly 76th District

SAN DIEGO _ Toni Atkins kicked off her campaign for State Assembly District 76 on Saturday, vowing to help find a fix for California’s troubling budget problems.

Atkins said her first goal, if elected, would be working toward “creating a structurally sound budget framework for our state; a sustainable one that means we can work on the issues that matter to us at home.”

Atkins, a Democrat, hopes to replace the termed-out assemblywoman, Lori Saldana. Also running for the seat are Republican Ralph Denney and Democrat Brittany Catton.

During her speech, Atkins promised to focus on several key issues affecting San Diegans, including unemployment and environmental protections.

“I grew up in a very poor family,” Atkins said, describing personal attributes that she believes sets her apart from the other candidates. “I think when we look at all of the cuts facing California families, and I’m talking middle-income and lower-income families who are struggling every single day, I know what that experience is like. I know what it’s like to not have a job, to have to search hard after you’ve gotten a college degree. I understand what it is like to be a regular San Diegan, a regular citizen. I’ve been there and my voice is going to be for regular San Diegans and Californians.”

She ended her first District 76 campaign speech on a positive note, emphasizing her political experience as preparation for tough work that lies ahead, if elected.

“I know it looks pretty grim. But I know and you know that life can be better for San Diegans and for Californians,” Atkins said. “I know we can rebuild our reputation. We can restore the promise of California being a leader in our country on education, high-tech and bio-tech jobs, on promoting sustainability and green technology, in a way that makes California the place to study, emulate and learn from. I know we will regain that reputation.”

A crowd of supporters attended the campaign kickoff for Atkins, who has been endorsed by an extensive list of organizations and community leaders, including Saldana. Atkins was enthusiastically introduced by state Senator Christine Kehoe.

Kehoe invoked several “We want Toni” chants. She stressed that the District 76 representative should be someone who can deliver for San Diego, stay above the partisan bickering in Sacramento and must be a “champion of the people.”

“As acting mayor during a time of crisis for our city, all of us admired Toni’s calm leadership and unbiased judgment,” Kehoe said. “Now San Diego needs to send her to Sacramento to join me to fight for firefighters, schools and for equal rights for all of Californians, including LGBT San Diegans.”

Atkins kept her remarks brief, thanking a few of her supporters and her wife Jennifer. Atkins joked that her staff had prohibited her from thanking individuals because as anyone who attended her wedding knows, she has the habit of thanking everyone.

“Each and every person is important to what we are trying to do,” Atkins said.

“This campaign is about us, it’s about we, it’s about our community. I have always felt that community support must be the front-seat driver for public office.”

Esther Rubio-Sheffrey contributed to this article.