Newsom to pick Kamala Harris replacement for U.S. Senate seat

Laveta Brigham

Now that California Sen. Kamala Harris is set to become the next vice president, Gov. Gavin Newsom has a big decision to make. Newsom, who will select her replacement in the U.S. Senate, had declined to discuss his thinking since the former California attorney general was announced as Biden’s running […]

Now that California Sen. Kamala Harris is set to become the next vice president, Gov. Gavin Newsom has a big decision to make.

Newsom, who will select her replacement in the U.S. Senate, had declined to discuss his thinking since the former California attorney general was announced as Biden’s running mate in August.

“About every other person I run into seems to have a strong opinion,” Newsom said last week. “I haven’t even processed that decision myself because we’ll have to make that determination after Election Day, whether that’s even an option.”

Mike Madrid, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and a Latino voting trends expert, said in August that it would be a “huge political mistake” for Newsom not to pick a person of color and, specifically, someone of Hispanic descent.

“It would be a striking omission of Latino representation. The only question for me is if it’s a Hispanic woman or man,” Madrid said.

Here’s a look at some of the many California Democrats the Democratic governor might consider to fill out the term, which expires in 2023:

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra replaced Kamala Harris once before, when she was elected to the Senate and then-Gov. Jerry Brown picked him to fill the office she left as California’s attorney general. He had previously represented Los Angeles in the U.S. House.

Madrid said he thinks Becerra or fellow statewide officeholder Alex Padilla could be first in line for the job. He pointed to Becerra’s experience as a “deep insider” in Congress as a good qualification.

Alex Padilla

Alex Padilla has been California’s secretary of state since 2015. The son of Mexican immigrants, Padilla grew up in Los Angeles and previously served on the Los Angeles City Council and in the California State Senate.

Madrid noted that Padilla and Newsom share the same political consulting firm.

“He was one of the early and, if not highest profile, endorsers of Newsom,” Madrid said, referring to Padilla’s endorsement of Newsom’s run for governor. “When he endorsed Gavin, that showed Gavin had significant Latino establishment endorsement.”

Soon after Harris was announced as Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick, a progressive political action committee, Latino Victory, announced a five-figure campaign advocating for the appointment of Padilla as the state’s first Latino senator.

Lorena Gonzalez

Democratic strategist Hilary McLean pointed to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez as a potential choice. As a Latina, Gonzalez would bring more diversity to the Senate floor, McLean said of the longtime labor advocate who has risen to prominence in California for her championing of the employee classification law AB 5.

“She never backs down from a fight,” McLean said in August. “She would bring the perspective of a mother to the Senate, which I think is really needed.”

Barbara Lee

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee represents another potential candidate from California’s congressional delegation who was also seen as a possible vice presidential pick.

Democratic National Committee delegates backing Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote to Biden asking that he consider Lee to be his running mate, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Lee previously served as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Kevin de León

Former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León unsuccessfully challenged Dianne Feinstein for her Senate seat in 2018. De León was recently elected to the Los Angeles City Council.

Democratic campaign consultant Garry South said de León could be a contender, particularly because he is Latino, but noted that his loss to Feinstein would hurt his chances. It’s critical Newsom consider a candidate that could win reelection in 2022, when Harris’ term is up, South said.

“A governor wants to make sure that whoever he appoints to that seat can run for a win the election in their own right,” South said in August.

Karen Bass

Once considered a contender to be Biden’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has a long history in California politics, beginning with activism in Los Angeles and including a stint as speaker of the state Assembly. She currently leads the Congressional Black Caucus.

Prominent California labor activist Dolores Huerta had , and told labor-focused publication Payday Report that Bass has been a very successful activist.

“She’s a builder,” Huerta said. “Karen has never been a self-promoter, so probably a lot of people don’t know who she is, but people in my world, the activist world, we know who Karen Bass is.”

Toni Atkins

The first woman and openly LGBTQ person to lead the state Senate, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins has had to work closely with Newsom on the state budget and legislative negotiations.

“Newsom loves Atkins,” Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio said in August. “From what I hear, she and Newsom have really bonded since he’s gotten to Sacramento… He likes to make history, so the LGBTQ factor is good. I think there is pressure to name another woman.”

Katie Porter

U.S. Rep Katie Porter is another member of Congress who could be considered. She has gained national attention for her persistent questioning of Trump administration officials during committee hearings.

The former law professor has become one of the House’s most successful fundraisers after flipping the Orange County seat formerly held by Republican Mimi Walters.

Porter won her re-election race for the 45th Congressional District in Orange County this week against her Republican opponent Greg Raths.

Betty Yee

California Controller Betty Yee was elected to her position in 2014, after serving on the California Board of Equalization. She previously helped develop the state budget in the California Department of Finance.

“The depth of her knowledge about issues important to California is incredible,” McLean said, adding that she would bring “much-needed diversity” to the Senate.

Robert Garcia

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia may also be on Newsom’s radar. Many California political experts agree Newsom will likely consider Latino and LGBTQ candidates for the seat. Garcia is both, and was recently announced as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, Politico reported. He was among the first Latinos to endorse Newsom for governor and also endorsed Harris for president.

Garcia has also been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed both his mother and stepfather.

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