After Kamala Harris was elected Vice President, the battle for her Senate seat began.
California Governor Gavin Newsom is currently presenting a full field of candidates: According to the laws of the state on vacancies in the Senate, Newsom can appoint a new legislator for the position who will serve the remaining two years of Harris' term. Whoever was selected can also run for the seat in 2022.
"There are a hundred tasks I would prefer. I'm not kidding," Newsom said earlier. "I don't wish that even for my worst enemy, because in the process you create enemies you know, not just friends. And it is an annoying decision. It is a challenge. "
To date, there are more than 10 candidates who have expressed interest or have been published in reports, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Rep. Karen Bass and Rep. Barbara Lee.
There are also several campaigns aimed at influencing Newsom – primarily an effort by the state Legislative Black Caucus calling for Newsom to appoint a black woman and another by the Latino Legislative Caucus calling for a Latino person.
"One argument is that this seat was and should be occupied by a black woman," says California strategist Steven Maviglio. "Another reason is that around 40 percent of this state is Latino and has never had a Latino senator."
Harris' Senate seat is particularly coveted because of the influence the populous state has as a democratic stronghold and the likelihood that this candidate could serve for a long time. (87-year-old California Senator Dianne Feinstein has held her seat for 30 years.) The person selected for the seat is expected to run for re-election – and potentially many terms thereafter.
Experts and organizers familiar with state politics said Newsom is likely considering the representation that various candidates will bring, their eligibility and effectiveness in relation to the roles they had. Newsom, too, will have to weigh his own legacy and previously signaled that he hopes to make history with appointed people.
"It's rare for a governor to appoint a senator who could stay in office for decades," said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. Any candidate not selected for that opening could get another shot for a Senate seat if Feinstein doesn't seek re-election in 2024. However, this opportunity is still a full cycle of presidential elections across the board.
Two campaigns for the Senate seat, briefly explained
There is growing pressure on this commissioner to provide much-needed representation in the very white and very male Senate: some lawmakers and grassroots organizations are telling Newsom to elect a Latino person while others want him to elect a black woman.
Many groups focus on this Senate seat because such opportunities are rare in California, a diverse state with an extensive bank of Democratic talent that previously had to wait years to open. (Former Senator Barbara Boxer, also a white woman, held her seat more than two decades before Harris' election in 2016.)
Harris is currently the only black woman in the Senate and the California state Legislative Black Caucus as well as organizations like Democracy for America and Black Lives Matter have stated that their successor should also be a black woman.
"Kamala Harris has a legacy she built, and it is very important that Gavin Newsom's legacy honors it," said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America. Harris was the first black and South Asian American senator to be elected by California and only the second black woman to serve in the Senate.
Black Lives Matter recently stressed in a statement that it was "non-negotiable" for Newsom to appoint a black woman to replace it. "If there isn't a single black woman in the Senate, then the Senate is simply not an adequate representation of the people," the group wrote.
Both groups and the Black Caucus legislature endorsed Reps Karen Bass and Barbara Lee – two longtime California lawmakers – for this role.
"We strongly believe that because of our hard work in this last election, as well as our hard work in California and representing the Democratic Party, this position must go to an African American woman," said Rep. Shirley Weber, Chair of the Black Caucus Legislature. said at a press conference.
Then there are a number of lawmakers and organizers who are pushing for Newsom to appoint a Latino person who would be California's first Latino senator – a representation some in a state that is roughly 40 percent Latino describes as "long overdue" to have.
The NALEO Educational Fund, a nonprofit that facilitates the participation of Latinos in the political process in the US, urges Newsom to do so in conjunction with the state's Latino Legislative Caucus and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
"California's Latino population, the largest of any state, should have a representative in the state who understands its priorities and needs as well as those of the country," said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO. "Since we as a nation are dealing with the double crises of Covid-19 and the economy, which has had a disproportionately large impact on Latinos, we need someone in the Senate who understands this very well."
In addition to Padilla and Becerra, Vargas mentioned Hilda Solis, a former US representative who was Labor Secretary during President Barack Obama's first term and is now a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Directors, as another contender.
"We agree that we respectfully ask our governor to recognize our community, their contributions and their needs," said Robert Rivas MP and Vice-Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus at a recent press conference.
As Vox's Teddy Schleifer reported, a contingent of prominent female donors also wrote to Newsom this week asking him to choose a woman of color.
The list explains
So long is the list of people who have expressed interest in this seat or named in various reports that Newsom joked about how many people chose it. "You may be the only one who didn't do this unless you just did, and that's just a slight exaggeration," he quipped a reporter earlier this year.
California, given its size and importance in democratic politics, has a myriad of options to choose from, with some lawmakers also reportedly battling for roles in the Biden administration. "The good news for Newsom is that the bank is deep and wide," says Maviglio. Here is a list of some of the potential candidates for Harris' Senate seat.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (right) stands with Governor Gavin Newsom and former All-Star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles after the Dodgers won the 2020 World Series.
Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State
Many experts believe California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is probably Newsom's most likely choice to follow Harris. Padilla, who is Latino, has a variety of credentials that work in his favor: he was elected to a state-wide office, is from Southern California, and has recently been heavily policing the state's electoral processes.
Both California senators have been from the San Francisco Bay Area since 1992, so some experts believe Newsom will pick someone from the Los Angeles area. Padilla, who grew up in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, would fit that bill.
Padilla, 47, was a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1999 to 2006 and the Senate from 2006 to 2014. Currently serving as Secretary of State since 2015, he recently responded to an attempt by the California Republican Party to mislead voters by putting up fake ballot boxes and labeling them official.
"We need not only racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but also geographical diversity," said Vargas. "Most of the Latino population is in the southern part of the state. It would be a great advantage to have someone in the Senate who understands this population because of their experience."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at a press conference in 2019. Becerra is shortlisted for the new US Senator in California.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra – the first Latino to hold the office – is among those candidates who would bring federal and state experience if selected for the job.
Becerra, 62, served in the House of Representatives for over two decades before being appointed attorney general when Harris left his position in 2016. He represented several Southern California districts near Los Angeles that were redistributed during his tenure and also headed the House Democratic Caucus office. Becerra also previously served as assistant attorney general for the state Justice Department and served one term as a member of the California Congregation.
In his current role, he's known for taking on Trump: Becerra has filed more than 100 lawsuits against the administration, including challenges to the travel ban and the president's attempt to withdraw the program of delayed action on the arrival of children.
MP Barbara Lee stands with the elected Vice President Kamala Harris at a memorial service for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Lee is a candidate for Harris' replacement in the U.S. Senate.
Erin Schaff / Getty Images
Barbara Lee, US House Member, 13th Ward
Lee – a black woman who has represented part of the Bay Area for decades – shares some similarities with Harris, but is seen as more progressive than the elected vice president.
Lee is a top pick among groups looking to appoint a black progressive woman. Lee, former co-chair of the Progressive Congressional Caucus, has represented Oakland and much of Alameda County in the House of Representatives since 1998 and previously served in the state.
Her record is firmly on the left, and her voices on warring powers have attracted attention: she was the only member of Congress to vote against the use of force against terrorists in 2001, and in 2019 GovTrack ranked her the most left in all of the United States a representative. Her age could be an issue, however – at 74, she is older than around 85 percent of current US Senators.
Rep. Karen Bass, who was shortlisted for Joe Biden's runmate, is now a candidate to replace Biden-selected Ms. Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate.
Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Karen Bass, Member of the US House of Representatives, 37th District
67-year-old MP Karen Bass saw her national profile rise significantly when she was seen as one of the top candidates for Biden's vice presidential election earlier this year.
Bass, a former community organizer, has represented a district in the Southern California home since 2011 and was previously speaker of the state assembly. Bass – the first black woman chosen for the role – was recognized for her ability to work across parties while advocating strong progressive ideas.
She currently chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and was the lead author of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a measure that Democrats put in place to address police reform last year.
Bass was scrutinized during the search for the Vice President when footage of her surfaced speaking positively about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. During her tenure in the House of Representatives, she has focused on criminal justice reform and child welfare policy – both areas that she could work on in the Senate.
Rep. Ro Khanna supports Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primaries for the Democratic President.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Ro Khanna, Member of the US House of Representatives, 17th District
Ro Khanna is another choice that would satisfy many progressives. Like Harris, Khanna is a child of Indian immigrants of South Asian descent.
Before being elected to Congress in 2016, 44-year-old Khanna held no elected office in a district that spans much of Silicon Valley. During Obama's first term, he worked for the Commerce Department for two years. In particular, Khanna is one of only six representatives not receiving campaign money from PACs or corporations, and he was the national co-chair of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign.
The Justice Democrats, a progressive PAC that drove the rise of New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have not approved a candidate for the Senate seat. But the organization posted on Twitter that "(Khanna's) vote in the Senate would be a big boost for our movement for justice." Sanders himself also spoke out for Khanna, tweeting that he "has a bold vision for America and is a proven fighter for working people".
Katie Porter, MP at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in January 2020.
Tom Williams / CQ appeal via Getty Images
Katie Porter, Member of the US House of Representatives, 45th Ward
MP Katie Porter, after serving a term in the House of Representatives, has established herself as a vocal progressive ready to take on officials and leaders of the Trump administration.
Porter, a white woman, was part of the wave of Democrats elected to the House in 2018 and has since successfully defended her battlefield district, which covers part of Orange County.
Porter, 46, was a consumer advocate prior to joining the House and now serves on the House's Home Supervision and Financial Services Committees. She – and her whiteboard – have become synonymous with targeted interviewing of witnesses, including CDC Director Robert Redfield and Kathy Kraninger, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Previously, she helped distribute aid to California families following the 2008 financial crisis and is a professor of law at the University of California at Irvine.
Long Beach Port General Manager Mario Cordero (left) and Mayor Robert Garcia stand on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge under construction in Long Beach on September 24th.
Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images
Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach
Long Beach may not be California's best-known city. But the port city south of Los Angeles is one of the 50 most populous in the country, and its mayor, 42-year-old Peruvian American Robert Garcia, is on the Senate shortlist.
Garcia wouldn't be the first non-city mayor to make a name for himself this year – former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg survived most of the Democratic primary field in his presidential campaign. Garcia is openly gay, and he's both the first Latino and first gay mayor of Long Beach. He and his mother immigrated to Los Angeles from Lima, Peru, when he was five. However, Garcia cannot nod due to a lack of name recognition.
"I love Robert Garcia," said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., who also works at UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies. “But if you do a poll in LA of 'Who is Robert Garcia? "Or" Who is the Mayor of Long Beach? "Performing, you would find very few people who know who the Mayor of Long Beach is."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis at a press conference in August.
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images
Hilda Solis, former US Secretary of Labor
Former Labor Minister Hilda Solis, 63, would provide the Senate with a wide range of references.
Solis served in both Houses of Parliament between 1992 and 2001, then served in the US House from 2001 to 2009, representing the northeastern part of the Los Angeles area. Obama pulled her out of Congress to make her Labor Secretary for four years, and Solis has served on the Los Angeles District Board of Directors since 2014.
If Solis is appointed to the Senate, fighting climate change will certainly be a top priority. During her stay at the House, she served on several environmental committees, including the Committee on Energy and Trade, the Committee on Natural Resources, and the selected Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Solis is a daughter of immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico and a major proponent of immigration reform.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed with Bryant Elementary School students in 2018.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
London Breed, Mayor of San Francisco
The Mayoress of San Francisco London Breed – the first black woman to be elected to this role – was highlighted as a strong leader during the coronavirus pandemic.
Breed, 46, won a special election in 2018 following the death of the late San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. Previously, she was head of the San Francisco board of directors, which is involved in the city's housing and infrastructure policy.
The race is relatively moderate in the left-wing city and has argued with city officials about how to proceed with affordable housing measures. She has been in the spotlight for the effectiveness of her coronavirus response, which included a quick-move home stay order last spring.
Clarification, November 24th: This article has been updated to reflect the Justice Democrats' position on Rep. Khanna as a potential candidate for the California Senate seat.
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