Ending weeks of speculation and a closely followed selection process, California Governor Gavin Newsom has chosen Alex Padilla, currently California’s secretary of state, to fill the Senate seat held by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, making him the first Latinx person ever to represent the state of California in the U.S. Senate.But in choosing Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants and the first in his family to graduate from college, Newsom passed over several Black women who were also strong contenders for that seat, including Representatives Barbara Lee and Karen Bass. That means that when the new Senate convenes next month, there will not be a single Black woman in Congress’s upper chamber and only two Black men, New Jersey’s Cory Booker and South Carolina’s Tim Scott. (If he wins one of the Georgia runoff elections on January 5, Reverend Raphael Warnock will be the third.)
And while there was definite pressure on Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace Harris, there was equal pressure from Latinx groups to make this groundbreaking appointment, given that Latinx people now make up 39% percent of the state’s population.
A former state senator, the 47-year-old Padilla is a close ally of Newsom’s and chaired the former San Francisco mayor’s first run at the governorship in 2010. Padilla also has ties to the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, having worked as an intern in her office before going on to win, at age 26, a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Two years later, he became the youngest person elected president of that council. Two influential lobbying groups, Latino Victory and BOLD PAC (the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus), had recently urged Newson to appoint Padilla to Harris’s seat.
“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,” Padilla said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the news was announced. “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.”
In his own statement, Newsom said: “Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts, and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic.” Added the governor: “He will be a Senator for all Californians.”
On Twitter, Representative Lee welcomed her new Congressional colleague: