Before becoming the first Black female vice president in U.S. history, Kamala Harris was the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate and only the second to serve in the Senate ever. So it should come as no surprise that Black people—including 28 civil rights leaders, Black Lives Matter officials and California’s Legislative Black Caucus—called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Harris with another Black woman to fill her seat.
Welp, that didn’t happen, but the good news is that Newsom appointed the first Latino to represent California in the Senate.
The Los Angeles Times reports that on Tuesday, Newsom chose his longtime political ally and current California secretary of state, Alex Padilla, to fill Harris’ seat when she steps down next month.
Here’s a little history on Padilla as reported by the Times:
The son of Mexican immigrants who settled in the San Fernando Valley, Padilla’s rise to the upper echelon of state politics closely shadowed the steady, decades-long ascension of Latino power and influence throughout California, from L.A.’s towering City Hall to the chandeliered chambers of the state Capitol.
At age 26, Padilla won a seat on the Los Angeles City Council during the anti-immigrant tumult of the 1990s, after California voters approved measures requiring “English-only” public schools and banning immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally from government assistance and services. Padilla, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, went on to become the city’s youngest council president, a state senator and California’s current two-term secretary of state.
“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. He will be a senator for all Californians,” Newsom said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the Washington Post, Newsom faced pressure by Latino organizations to appoint a Latino—the state’s largest ethnic group—to fill the seat. So it’s no surprise that Newsom also made it a point to speak on Padilla’s ethnic background while praising his ascension to the Senate.
“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,” Newsom said. “Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol.”
Of course, the state’s Legislative Black Caucus was pushing for either Rep. Karen Bass or Rep. Barbara Lee—both Black women with years of experience in Washington, unlike Padilla, as the Post notes—to fill Harris’ seat.
Side note: Ultimately, this whole thing is just a reminder that only white people don’t have to worry about pushing for representation in the U.S. government. Anyway...
“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Gov. Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement, the Times reports. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the healthcare workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you.”