Newsom appoints Alex Padilla to fill Harris' Senate seat

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California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks in San Francisco. | AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Gov. Gavin Newsom is appointing California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate, elevating his longtime ally after months of fierce jockeying for the position and giving the state its first Latino senator.

From the moment President-elect Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, California politicians began positioning themselves for the possible Senate opening. The lobbying around Newsom has intensified since Biden’s victory, with various groups representing different constituencies urging the governor to appoint a Latino, a Black woman or another representative of California’s diversity.

In the end, Newsom chose the presumed frontrunner in Padilla, who has long supported Newsom’s political ambitions and offered the historic opportunity in a state where Latinos are a plurality with 40 percent of the population.

That milestone resonates deeply in California, where Latino elected officials are in various positions of power but have never represented the state in the Senate. Newsom faced pressure to appoint a Latino from groups like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Yet Newsom was also bound to disappoint people who wanted him to replace Harris with an African American woman like Rep. Karen Bass. Once Harris leaves for the Biden administration, there will not be a Black woman in the Senate, and the calls to replace Harris with another Black woman became increasingly public in recent days as officials like Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) weighed in.

A Democrat from Los Angeles, Padilla served in the California Legislature before becoming California’s top elections official. In that role he has pursued various measures to boost voter turnout and engagement, including his advocacy for automatic voter registration and an expansion of mail voting.

Padilla has also been at the vanguard of California’s opposition to President Donald Trump, regularly assailing the president’s inaccurate claims about voter fraud in California. His political advocacy has at times generated controversy, as when his office awarded a $35 million voter outreach contract this year to a Biden-affiliated firm.

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