Who Will Gavin Newsom Choose to Replace Kamala Harris in the Senate?
Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have over 270 electoral votes and will be the next President and Vice President, the question is who Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint to replace Harris in the Senate. Sen. Harris was elected in 2016 so her term expires in 2022. When there is a Senate vacancy in the Golden State, the governor has the power to appoint a replacement and that person serves out the remainder of the outgoing senator’s term.
It is possible Gov. Newsom could choose a retired politician and/or an unambitious person — known as a “caretaker” — who would not run in 2022, to replace Harris. But POLITICO reported two weeks ago that is unlikely.
Since Harris was chosen to be Joe Biden’s running mate in August, Democrats in our state were privately campaigning to replace her. In August, POLITICO reported there were upwards of a dozen candidates to be her replacement. Governor Newsom is likely being lobbied by different ethnic/racial blocs and special interest groups to pick their preferred candidate.
Hispanic activists and lawmakers would love for him to choose a Latino to replace Harris — Latinos makeup a plurality of California’s population, but we haven’t had a Hispanic Senator yet. There are a couple contenders and they currently hold statewide office.
One is Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was a congressman in LA before being appointed to replace Kamala Harris as Attorney General in 2017. He then won re-election in 2018 in a landslide. By nature of when they were Attorney General, he had a much different role than Harris. She was in office during Obama’s presidency but Becerra has been Attorney General during Trump’s term. He spent it suing the Trump Administration 100 times on everything from trying to fuck with the Census, protecting DACA recipients, intervening to stop harmful environmental deregulations, protecting healthcare access, and more.
According to a POLITICO piece from the end of October, Secretary of State Alex Padilla “tops the short list.” He is a close ally of Gov. Newsom, and was first elected in 2014 before being easily re-elected in 2018. Padilla, like many Secretaries of State, oversees our elections and successfully transitioned us to being a fully vote-by-mail state for 2020 amid COVID-19. He served on LA’s City Council from 1999–2005 and in the state Senate from 2006–2014 so he has been in California politics for almost half of his life. His greatest accomplishment as Secretary of State is advocating for and enacting the Voter’s Choice Act, which replaced traditional polling places with vote centers as long as counties mailed every registered voter a ballot.
California has had two female Senators serve together since the early 1990s (Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Harris) so women’s groups will be adamant Harris must be replaced by a woman. The most prominent is Rep. Karen Bass, who was under consideration to be Biden’s running mate. Bass, 67, represents West Los Angeles.
Bass co-wrote the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, following weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, to try to help solve systemic racism. The bill would ban chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants. Most notably, it also would eliminate legal protections known as qualified immunity, that effectively shields police officers from lawsuits. The bill easily passed the House but did not get a vote in the Senate.
Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, is a choice that would excite the Black community and progressives. Lee was the only member of congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force following 9/11. She has advocated for the legalization of cannabis and supports Medicare for all. She is also the Vice Chair and a founding member of the LGBT Equality Caucus.
Equality California’s Executive Director Rick Zbur made it clear his group would like an LGBT person to be chosen. Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia, state Sen. Scott Weiner, and Toni Atkins, the leader of the state Senate, are on the list Equality California has suggested. Toni Atkins and Scott Weiner are very successful state legislators who feel like longshots. They also have unfinished business in the state Senate, most notably on housing affordability.
Garcia tragically lost his mother and stepfather to COVID-19, which raised his national profile. Garcia supports starting a universal basic income pilot program, which has been very successful in Stockton, CA. The pilot program, which may not begin until late 2021, would send money each month to a select group of city residents with no strings attached. Garcia is also pro-union and advocated the legalization of recreational marijuana. Garcia would also check two boxes as an openly gay Latino.
Progressives would be thrilled with Rep. Katie Porter, a prolific fundraiser, who represents Orange County. In 2012, former Attorney General Kamala Harris appointed Porter to be the state’s independent monitor of banks in a nationwide $25 billion mortgage settlement. Similar to Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, she has garnered popularity for dragging CEOs during congressional hearings. Porter mixes economic populism and socially liberal policies in a palatable way for the historically Republican Orange County. But given how many freshmen House Democrats unexpectedly lost this week, I don’t think she’ll get chosen. However, when Sen. Feinstein’s career is over I would not be surprised to see Porter go after that Senate seat.
An intriguing candidate is San Francisco Mayor London Breed. In early March, as NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio told New Yorkers not to worry and go see movies, Breed urged constituents to plan for school closures, have a supply of necessary medication, and more. At least through the summer, San Francisco has fared better than other large cities in managing and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Before mayor, as a Board of Supervisor, she led an effort to reject a new jail and she has been a leader on environmental justice and moving toward clean energy.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom — the “First Partner,” as she prefers to be called, because it is more inclusive than “First Lady” — is known to be an important advisor to the governor, particularly on gender issues and equality. How much will her input matter to her husband’s selection? Does Gov. Newsom consult with Harris? If so, who does she favor to replace her? One thing is clear: whoever Gov. Newsom chooses may have that Senate seat for many years and will be a prominent face for California politics.