As Kamala Harris prepares for vice presidency, options to fill her U.S. Senate seat remain plentiful
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom must choose a candidate to fill Harris’ post for the remaining two years of the term.
By Marcos Franco, Staff Writer
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
The selection process will take place in Sacramento where Newsom will be tasked with choosing a candidate to occupy Harris’ seat in the U.S. Senate for the remaining two years of her term. Although an abundance of applicants have lined up to fill the coveted position, a clear frontrunner is yet to be named.
“This will be one of the most important, most difficult and yes, most costly transitions in modern American history,” said Chris Korge, Democratic National Committee’s finance chair. “There is so much work to do.”
With Harris being the first African American to represent California in the U.S. Senate and the second Black woman in Senate history, Californians may expect Newson to appoint another candidate of color. Despite its nearly 40 percent Latino population, California is yet to see a Latino senator. Of the speculated contenders to fill Harris’ post, three of the top candidates are of Latino descent. Secretary of State (SOS) Alex Padilla, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach are a few of the names that have surfaced and remained in the public eye.
Not only is Garcia a young Peruvian immigrant, but he is also openly gay. The 42-year-old mayor is currently halfway through his second term serving the city of Long Beach, where nearly 80 percent of voters chose to re-elect him in 2018. If appointed, Garcia would be the first opely gay Latino to represent California.
Padilla previously served two terms from 2006 - 2014 in the California State Senate, where he advocated for renewable energy and led legislation in the fight against climate change. Since becoming SOS, Padilla has directed his focus to promoting voter registration and encouraging voter participation as well as strengthening voter rights. Padilla worked as an intern under Sen. Diane Feinstein before being elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1999. Two years later, at the age of 28, he became the youngest and first Latino LA city council president.
Becerra is also a first time Latino California Attorney General with decades of experience serving the Golden State. Becerra has served 12 terms in congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has also served as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and was a ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.
On the other hand, Newsom can decide to appoint another woman to fill the seat. U.S. Representatives Karen Bass and Barbara Lee have been mentioned and may be at the top of the list of contenders. Lee is a lifelong friend of Harris as the two worked together serving Alameda County. Lee has served the 13th congressional district, formally known as the 9th district prior to 2013, since 1998.
Bass currently represents California’s 37th congressional district where she has been the incumbent since 2013. Prior to this, Bass served six years (2004 - 2010) in the California State Assembly. In her last two years, she became the first African American woman in history to serve as speaker of a state legislative body.
According to a recent poll conducted by USC Schwarzenegger Institute, 76 percent of registered voters in California would like to see a senator with a fresh new look and voice. The survey also states that 52 percent voters do not care if Newsom appoints a “historic first” for U.S. senator, but prefer to have someone in the position with prior legislative experience.
No matter who the California governor chooses, the appointee will need to run for election in two years when the term has ended. With only two months left to make his decision, Newsom’s burden of choosing is quickly winding down as inauguration day closes in.
"This is not something that I wish even on my worst enemy, because you create enemies in this process you know, not just friends. And it's a vexing decision,” said Newsom. “It’s a challenging one.”