California Governor Gavin Newsom has selected his longtime political ally Alex Padilla to replace Senator Kamala Harris in the United States Senate after she becomes vice president next month.
The 47-year-old Padilla is California’s secretary of state and was widely regarded as having an inside track to Harris’s seat, although Newsom had been under pressure to pick a Black woman to replace Harris, the only Black woman currently serving in the Senate.
Newsom posted a video on Twitter surprising Padilla by asking him to accept the appointment.
His appointment will make history. But the @AlexPadilla4CA I know is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.
I can think of no one better to represent the state of California as our next United States Senator. pic.twitter.com/xiAzpTS42Y
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 22, 2020
Newsom reminded Padilla that both of Padilla’s parents came to the US from Mexico as immigrants and met in Los Angeles.
“Can you imagine what your mom would be thinking now as I ask you to be the next US senator from the great state of California?” Newsom asked.
“Are you serious?” Padilla responded, tearing up with emotion.
“I am honoured, man. And I am humbled, because of them,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled to provide for us. And the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses,” Padilla said.
Padilla’s appointment would become effective when Harris officially resigns, which she must do before being inaugurated as vice president on January 20.
“It’s a fantastic choice,” said Roger Salazar, president of ALZA Strategies, a Democratic political consultancy in Sacramento, California.
“It’s a very strong symbolic choice for Gavin Newsom with California’s Latino population being nearly 40 percent, picking the first Latino US senator in California history, sets a mark and it’s ground-breaking,” said Salazar, who had been an advocate for Padilla’s selection.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 22, 2020
The selection of Padilla carries as much import for Latinos in the state as it does for Newsom and his political future.
A telegenic and upbeat politician, Newsom is seen in the Democratic Party as a potential future presidential candidate. Naming Padilla to the Senate opens up another government job Newsom must fill, that of California secretary of state.
Already, the governor must appoint someone to replace outgoing California Attorney General Xavier Becerra who was named by President-elect Joe Biden to be secretary of the US Health and Human Services Department.
For Newsom, who has been dealing with a backlash against tightening COVID-19 restrictions amid a series of public relations blunders, filling the two positions gives an opportunity to put his stamp on a new generation of California political leaders and he will have an array of potential candidates for those positions.
“It used to be in California when you were looking for diversity to fill a spot, the bench used to be pretty thin. That is not the case anymore,” Salazar observed.“Across the spectrum, the mayors and council positions, leadership has been becoming more diverse over the years. There is no shortage of talented potential candidates out there,” he said.
Newsom is up for re-election in 2022 and he is likely to face a credible challenger in the form of Republican Kevin Faulkner, the former mayor of San Diego.
A recall movement against the governor has gained momentum as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on and Newsom has struggled with public fallout from a visit to an upscale Napa Valley restaurant at a time when he was telling Californians to stay home.
“Newsom is dealing with some negative optics,” said Luis Alvarado, a California political strategist.
“The question is, will he make appointments based on political expediency or to benefit him, or is he actually going to find the most qualified leaders to serve in these very important positions,” Alvarado said.
Newsom will need Padilla to prove himself a success in the Senate role and he will need to mend fences with Black activists who will be bitterly disappointed he did not choose an African American woman to fill Harris’s seat.
“At the end of the day if Padilla turns out to be a good senator, it will be fine. It won’t hurt Newsom politically,” predicted Bill Carrick, a long-time California political consultant.