Posted on December 24, 2020

California Gets Latino US Senator, Some Black Leaders Angry

Michael R. Blood, Associated Press, December 22, 2020

California is getting its first Latino U.S. senator. For Gov. Gavin Newsom, it’s a political gamble.

The Democratic governor Tuesday named Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. When Padilla goes to Washington, the former state legislator will become California’s first Latino senator since the state’s founding 170 years ago.

In picking a personal friend and fellow Democrat, Newsom had his eye on history and pragmatism — he turned to someone he could trust with a year of uncertainty looming, including a possible recall election targeting the governor while the pandemic rages unabated.

Newsom also rejected pleas from a host of prominent Black leaders to replace Harris, the Senate’s only Black woman, with another African American woman, such as U.S. Reps. Karen Bass or Barbara Lee.

About six hours after the Padilla announcement, Newsom’s office said he would nominate Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who is Black, to be the next secretary of state. If confirmed, she would become the first Black woman to hold the office, giving Newsom two history-making picks in one day.

Given the timing, however, it appeared the choice was intended at least partly to quell criticism for not choosing a Black woman to replace Harris.

“Many people believe the governor will pay a political price,” Kerman Maddox, a Democratic consultant and fundraiser who is Black, said in an email. “It’s a terribly insensitive decision” with the nation in the midst of a reckoning over racial injustice.

“If Governor Newsom thinks our disappointment with the Kamala Harris replacement will be tempered by appointing an African American woman to be California secretary of state, he clearly does not know this constituency,” Maddox added. “When I heard the news about the secretary of state appointment, my anger meter went from disappointment to being downright angry.”

Black San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the Senate decision “a real blow to the African American community.”

The hectic day of political maneuvers only underscored the risks that came with them.

The mannerly, soft-spoken Padilla will begin his truncated term facing the prospect of a tough reelection fight in 2022, when he is likely to see challengers from within his own party in the heavily Democratic state. {snip}


Padilla will become part of an ascendant class of Latinos going to Washington with the arrival of Biden administration, which will include California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the president-elect’s pick for health secretary.

The Padilla pick, while straining ties with some Black leaders, was widely praised by Latinos, the state’s largest single demographic group, representing about 40% of the population of 40 million.

“I do think for the Latino community it is a historic moment,” Padilla said.