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Kevin de Leon to make way for next California Senate leader

In this file photo, California State Senator Kevin de Leon delivers a speech on the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. De Leon is ramping up a campaign challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, and he said Thursday he will step aside to allow the party to elect new leadership. Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon said Thursday that he will step aside as leader of the California Senate sometime next year after his successor is chosen.

De Leon was the first Latino in more than a century to lead a California legislative chamber. He is ramping up a campaign challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat.

Democrats will choose state Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego, a former Assembly speaker, to succeed de Leon. If formally elected by her colleagues, she would be the first woman to lead the Senate — a transfer of power that comes as the Legislature faces scrutiny over its handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

The vote will be in January, but De Leon, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election, has not said when Atkins will officially take over as leader. Term-limited legislative leaders generally transfer power to their successor during their last year in office.

"For nearly four years, it's been a profound honor to lead a unified, progressive and collaborative California state Senate," de Leon said in his statement. "Together, we've put the public interest over individual ambitions and made enduring progress on behalf of millions of Californians."

Atkins said she would work to make California "a place of opportunity for everyone."

This story has been updated.