But her career in politics is hardly over. A few weeks ago, Atkins announced that she would run in 2026 to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cannot seek a third term.
She agreed to an exit interview, and we spoke by phone right around the time she was announcing her campaign for governor. I intended to focus on her political legacy, but we ended up talking mostly about her roots in Appalachia. Here’s our chat, lightly edited.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in a little community in southwest Virginia, Wythe County. My dad was a coal and lead miner, and my mom was a seamstress. We lived in a house with an outhouse and no running water. At about 7 or 8, we moved to the “big city” of Roanoke, but before that we carried our water from a spring.
What brought you to California?
My sister was in the Navy, and she married another Navy guy. He was getting ready to be deployed for eight months, and she was getting ready to deliver their first child. I came to help with her newborn.
That was in 1985, right? It must have been a culture shock.
I had always thought I didn’t fit in. I was too country. I was too poor. And then I came out as L.G.B.T.Q. when I was 17 or 18. I grew up in a community that, really, I did not feel was about me. I thought of California as the future. I couldn’t wait to get here.