- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins plans to fight a fellow Democrat for a state Senate seat when her tenure expires.

Atkins will fight Marty Block for his San Diego seat next year in a highly unusual challenge that could mean a bruising and potentially costly fight in an otherwise safe district, the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1MiSp7l) reported Saturday.

“Absolutely it makes me uncomfortable,” Atkins, D-San Diego, told the newspaper. “Will I be prepared to do it? Absolutely.”

Atkins said she is the first speaker from San Diego and has made things happen for the community.

“I think I’m just a better return on investment long-term,” she said.

The challenge would have not only regional implications for Democrats but between the Assembly and Senate, which have a simmering rivalry even though both are Democrat-controlled.

“The soon to be ex-speaker knows very well that when one house challenges another, it’s a slap in the face of the leader of the challenged house,” Block told the Times.

He called it “a direct assault” on Senate leader Kevin De Leon.

In a statement, De Leon declined to say whether he considered Atkins’ challenge as an affront but said Block was “an extraordinary senator.”

“He deserves to be re-elected and Senate Democrats are resolutely united behind him,” De León said.

Atkins said she has a good relationship with De Leon and hopes “there will continue to be mutual respect.”

John Burton, chair of the California Democratic Party, declined to comment, as did an aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, the Times said.

Atkins became Assembly speaker in 2014 and was praised for helping craft a $7.5-billion water bond that voters approved last year. She has had trouble this year in advancing another priority: a bill to expand affordable housing.

Earlier this month, Anthony Rendon, D-Los Angeles, was chosen to succeed her as speaker next year.

Block represents the 39th District, which covers most of San Diego along with Coronado and Del Mar. Democrats hold a large edge in voter registration there.

Atkins supported Block, a fellow Assembly member, in his 2012 Senate race.

She complained about what she called “the whisper campaign that makes me out to be some big bully that wants to push him out of his rightful seat.”

Atkins said she decided to run after Block indicated during a meeting that he would only serve one term.

Block said the conversation was speculative and no commitment was made.

“We discussed it, but there was no backroom deal at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a part of any backroom deal.”

Atkins has more than $600,000 available for a Senate race, while Block has less than $80,000 on hand but said he believed the Senate leader and others would help.

Others hope it won’t come to that.

“My hope is that my friend Toni Atkins and my friend Marty Block sit down, and at the end of the day, only one of them is running for Senate,” former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez said.

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