Angels—— California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Democratic strategist and Kamala Harris presidential campaign adviser LaFonza Butler to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein vacancy, a spokesman for his office said Sunday. of U.S. Senate seats.
In selecting Butler, Newsom followed through on his promise to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat if it became vacant. However, he has been facing pressure from some black politicians and advocacy groups to choose Barbara Lee, a prominent black congresswoman who is already running for the seat.
Butler will become the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate.
The long-serving Democratic senator died last Thursday after a series of illnesses. Butler leads Emily’s List, a political organization that supports female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. She is also a former labor leader of SEIU 2015, a powerful force in California politics.
According to her Emily’s List biography, Butler currently lives in Maryland.
She did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. A spokesman for Newsom’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The Associated Press that Newsom chose Butler.
Democrats control the Senate 51-49, but Feinstein’s seat is open. Newsom’s quick appointment would give the Democratic caucus more wiggle room in close votes, including nominations that Republicans unanimously oppose. She could be sworn in as early as Tuesday night when the Senate reconvenes.
Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress and the longest-serving woman in the Senate, died at the age of 90 from a series of illnesses. She said in February that she would not seek re-election in 2024. Lee is one of several prominent Democrats vying for the seat, including Democratic U.S. Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. Newsom said he did not want to appoint any candidates because it would give them an unfair advantage in the race.
His spokesman, Anthony York, said the governor did not ask Butler to commit not to run. December 8 is the deadline for candidates to submit applications to the office.
Butler has never held elected office but has a long history in California politics. She served as a senior adviser to Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign while working for a political firm whose strategists have worked for Newsom and many other prominent state Democrats. She also briefly worked in the private sector at Airbnb.
In a statement released after Feinstein’s death, she called Feinstein “a legend for women in politics and across the country.”
Butler’s Emily’s List works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. The issue has become a focus for many Democrats following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
This isn’t Newsom’s first choice for a U.S. senator, as he previously was responsible for selecting Kamala Harris’ replacement when she was elected vice president. He selected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for the position at the time. It was one of a series of appointments Newsom made in late 2020 and early 2021, a power that gave him kingmaker status among the state’s ambitious Democrats.
The seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands in the 2024 election. Democrats in the liberal-leaning state haven’t lost a statewide election since 2006, and the party holds a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over Republicans in voter registration.