Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media
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.
“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.
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.