California Gov. Gavin Newsom chooses Laphonza Butler to fill Dianne Feinstein’s Senate Seat – Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, has officially selected Laphonza Butler, who serves as the president of EMILY’s List, to assume the late Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat, according to confirmation from the governor’s office to news outlet. Butler will become the third Black woman to ever hold a Senate position and the first openly LGBTQ individual to represent California in this legislative body.
Politico was the first to report Newsom’s decision to appoint Butler. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate’s longest-serving woman, passed away at the age of 90 last Thursday. Under California law, the governor has the authority to appoint a senator who will serve until the next regularly scheduled statewide general election. This means that Butler’s tenure will extend until the next senator, chosen by voters in the November 2024 election, is inaugurated.
Butler has led EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women, since 2021, when she became the first Black woman to lead the organization. On Friday, she posted a tribute to Feinstein on social media, calling her “a titan in the Senate” and “a legendary figure for women in politics and around the country.” Butler has built her professional career in California, serving as the leader of SEIU Local 2015, the largest union in the state.
She has maintained a longstanding partnership with Vice President Kamala Harris, held a position on the University of California Board of Regents, and served as the Director of Public Policy and Campaigns for Airbnb in North America. While Butler currently resides in Maryland, the governor’s office has indicated that she owns a residence in California and intends to change her voter registration.
Governor Newsom, a Democrat, had been dropping hints in recent months regarding his choice for Senator Feinstein’s replacement in case her seat became vacant. He had said that he would appoint a Black woman if either of California’s Senate seats opened up. He also said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” last month that while he “didn’t want to make another appointment,” it knew it was his “responsibility.”
Newsom also said that his choice would amount to an “interim” appointment and that he wouldn’t appoint any of the candidates who had been running to succeed Feinstein in 2024. They include Reps. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter. Choosing any of them, Newsom said, “would be completely unfair” to the candidates “who have worked their tails off” in their campaigns.
However, Butler will not face any limitations on her future plans and remains free to run for the Senate seat if she so chooses. A spokesperson for EMILY’s List did not provide an immediate response to a request for comment. The exact timing of her swearing-in remains uncertain, with the earliest possibility being Tuesday afternoon when the Senate reconvenes.
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The Congressional Black Caucus had strongly recommended Newsom appoint Lee, emphasizing her courage, vision, and track record in addressing poverty, challenging the fossil fuel industry, defending democracy, and championing progressive causes. Previously, Newsom appointed Alex Padilla as California Secretary of State to the Senate seat left vacant by Vice President Harris’s election, which means he has now selected both of the state’s senators.
Apart from Harris and now Butler, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was the only other Black female senator. California voters will participate in a Senate primary election on March 5. California employs a blanket primary system, where all candidates from all parties compete on the same primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of their party affiliation.