Despite intense pressure from Black women political groups across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to be California’s next United States Senator, replacing Sen. Kamala Harris.
Padilla will complete Vice President-elect Harris’s term, which began in 2017 ends in 2023. He will be the first Latino to serve as United States Senator representing California.
“The son of Mexican immigrants — a cook and house cleaner — Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the State Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s Secretary of State. Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol as California’s next United States Senator, the first Latino to hold this office,” Gov. Newsom said.
For weeks after the presidential election, various Black women leaders, civic and political operatives have been pushing for the governor to appoint an African American woman to replace Harris. With a campaign titled “Keep the Seat,” they have been organizing rallies, social media drives and news conferences across California – and around the country — to inform the public, pressure the governor and gain public support for their effort.
The California Democratic Party Black Caucus (CDP Black Caucus), Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC), and Black political leaders across the country expressed their support for filling the seat with a Black woman.
The top candidates the groups recommended to replace Harris were Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Karen Bass (D-CA-37), both Black women. They argued that if the governor appointed either Lee or Bass, he would be continuing the representation of Black women across America in the highest law-making body in the country.
“I congratulate Secretary of State Alex Padilla on his historic appointment to fill Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’s seat in the United States Senate. Secretary Padilla has a track record as a skilled legislator and a steadfast advocate for justice, and I believe he will be a powerful voice in the Senate for those who continue to be denied our country’s promise of equality.
“I look forward to working with him on behalf of all Californians to address the economic and public health crises we are facing, and to create a brighter future for our state and for communities across the country,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Reacting to the governor’s decision, the Women’s Foundation of California expressed its disappointment.
“We wanted to see a Black woman continue to represent our state in the Senate,” the organization’s statement read.
“We are disappointed, but we are not defeated,” the Women’s Foundation of California statement continued. “We will continue to invest in, train, and connect Black, brown, and indigenous woman, because we know that’s what is needed. We will advance feminist policy that furthers racial, economic, and gender justice, because we know that is what we deserve.”
After the governor’s announcement, Lee immediately sent well wishes to Padilla and praised the governor’s decision.
“I congratulate Secretary of State Alex Padilla on his historic appointment to fill Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’s seat in the United States Senate. Secretary Padilla has a track record as a skilled legislator and a steadfast advocate for justice, and I believe he will be a powerful voice in the Senate for those who continue to be denied our country’s promise of equality,” Lee said in a written statement.
“Today, our state gains yet another champion following a distinguished line of individuals who have shattered glass ceilings and hurdled obstacles in their way. After then-Senator Harris’s historic election in 2016 as the first woman of color to represent California, we now have another historic barrier shattered as Alex will be the first Latino to serve California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing our fight for progress and representation in all facets of our government and am excited to work with Senator Padilla in the years to come,” wrote Congresswoman Karen Bass
L.A. City Councilmember, Marqueece Harris-Dawson expressed his position on the Padilla’s appointment. “While I recognize the accomplishments of Secretary Padilla and congratulate him on this historic appointment, I am disappointed, frustrated and saddened that Black Women will have no representation in the US Senate. I look forward to actively working together to elevate the voices of Black women across California while continuing to serve my Black and Latinx neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” Harris-Dawson said.
“As a Black woman I can’t ignore what Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s senate seat represented. She was the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate and now there are none. This is something we must hold space for discussing and acting on as our party works to rebuild our nation from the failures of the Trump administration. I hope that the Governor will remain mindful of the lack of representation for Black women in the U.S. Senate. I wholeheartedly trust that Alex Padilla will continue to lead with the integrity and fortitude he has shown as our Secretary of State and throughout his career in public service. I have worked with Alex in the legislature and know that he will fight for all Californians. We should not shy away from celebrating this historic moment while acknowledging the continued work that must be done to keep our seat at the table,” said L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
Padilla, who previously served as a Los Angeles City Councilman and State Senator, has been a national leader in the fight to expand voting rights.
Padilla was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on Jan. 5, 2015. He was re-elected in 2018 and received the most votes of any Latino elected official in the United States.
“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” said Secretary of State Padilla. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”
Newsom now has two empty seats in California to fill: Padilla’s and that of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is also Latino. Becerra’s position is open because President-elect Joe Biden has nominated him United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.