California governor names Laphonza Butler former Kamala Harris adviser to Feinstein Senate seat California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Sunday his choice of Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist who advised Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential campaign, to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.
In keeping with his commitment, Newsom appointed a Black woman, Butler, to the position. Nevertheless, he faced pressure from some Black leaders and advocacy organizations who favored the selection of Representative Barbara Lee, a prominent Black congresswoman who had already declared her candidacy for the seat.
With this appointment, Butler becomes the sole Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate and also makes history as the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the Senate.
Governor Newsom explained in a statement that the issues Senator Feinstein had championed in Congress—such as reproductive rights, equal protection, and addressing gun violence—were currently facing significant challenges nationwide. He expressed confidence that Laphonza Butler would continue Senator Feinstein’s legacy, breaking barriers and advocating for the welfare of all Californians in Washington, D.C.
Butler, who currently leads Emily’s List, a political organization that supports Democratic women candidates advocating for abortion rights, has a prior background as a labor leader with SEIU 2015, a prominent player in California’s political landscape.
Her appointment introduces a potential political puzzle within the already crowded 2024 race to succeed Feinstein, a contest that has been in motion since the start of the year. Notably, Governor Newsom’s spokesperson, Anthony York, clarified that the governor did not request Butler to commit to abstaining from the race. The deadline for potential candidates to submit their candidacy paperwork is December 8. If Butler decides to enter the race, it could lead to competition for the relatively small yet influential group of Black voters in California and potentially impact Lee’s prospects.
Emily’s List has earned a reputation as a formidable fundraising entity, and amassing significant campaign funds is imperative in any statewide race in California. Governor Newsom’s announcement also mentioned that Butler will step down from her role at the organization.
The decision carried potential political ramifications for Newsom, who is viewed as a possible future national candidate. Since 1992, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee favored by Black voters has consistently won. Various groups and Black politicians, including the Congressional Black Caucus, had urged Newsom to appoint Lee, believing she was the most qualified candidate for the position.
Dianne Feinstein, who had served for a long time, passed away last Thursday at the age of 90 after battling several illnesses.
According to her Emily’s List biography, Butler currently resides in Maryland. However, Izzy Gardon, a spokesman for Newsom, mentioned that Butler owns a home in California. It is expected that she will re-register to vote in California before her swearing-in, which could occur as early as Tuesday evening when the Senate reconvenes.
Despite attempts to reach out, Butler did not provide an immediate response to an email seeking comment or release a statement.
With Democrats holding a narrow 51-49 Senate majority, the vacancy left by Feinstein presents an opportunity for Governor Newsom to bolster the Democratic caucus, particularly on contentious votes and nominations that face unanimous Republican opposition.
Feinstein, the Senate’s most senior member and the longest-serving female senator, declared in February that she would not run for re-election in 2024. Lee is among several notable Democrats vying for her seat, including U.S. Representatives Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. However, Governor Newsom has expressed reluctance to appoint any of these candidates, as it could provide an unfair advantage in the upcoming race.
Butler, though lacking experience in elected office, boasts a significant background in California politics. She served as a senior advisor during Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign and worked at a political consultancy firm that included strategists with ties to Newsom and other influential state Democrats. Additionally, she had a brief stint in the private sector with Airbnb.
In response to Feinstein’s passing, Emily’s List, an organization led by Butler, which focuses on supporting Democratic women who uphold abortion rights, issued a statement commending Feinstein as a legendary figure in politics, especially for women, both in the political arena and nationwide. This statement comes at a critical juncture following the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned women’s constitutional right to abortion, making it a pivotal issue for many Democrats.
Equality California, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the nation operating at the state level, expressed that this appointment will provide an additional voice for our community in Congress. This comes at a time when our rights and freedoms are facing challenges across the country.
Notably, Governor Newsom had previously been tasked with selecting a replacement for Kamala Harris when she assumed the role of vice president. During that period, he chose California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for the U.S. Senate position. This selection was part of a series of appointments made by Newsom in late 2020 and early 2021, solidifying his influence and stature as a key figure among the state’s ambitious Democrats.
The Democratic party is anticipated to retain control of the seat in the 2024 election. In the state, which leans towards liberal policies, Democrats have not experienced a statewide election defeat since 2006, and they maintain a voter registration advantage over Republicans of nearly 2-to-1.