NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 2nd, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Who will replace Kamala Harris if the Democratic ticket wins?

Back in August, as expect­ed, Joe Biden asked Cal­i­for­ni­a’s junior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris to join his tick­et as the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. Har­ris is a his­toric pick: she is only the fourth woman to be cho­sen for a pres­i­den­tial tick­et and the first Black woman and woman of south Asian descent.

Though Sen­a­tor Har­ris right­ful­ly received the lion’s share of the media atten­tion fol­low­ing her selec­tion, it was­n’t long before many reporters began ask­ing anoth­er ques­tion: if Har­ris becomes Vice Pres­i­dent, who will suc­ceed her in the Sen­ate? It’s a ques­tion that has been asked again more recent­ly in the run-up to the vice pres­i­den­tial debate between Har­ris and Trump’s chief sur­ro­gate Mike Pence.

While the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion requires vacan­cies in the U.S. House to be filled by elec­tion, the Con­sti­tu­tion gives states more lee­way over how to fill a U.S. Sen­ate vacan­cy, owing in part to the fact that sen­a­tors were orig­i­nal­ly not direct­ly elect­ed by the peo­ple. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Legislatures:

Present­ly, thir­ty-sev­en states fill Sen­ate vacan­cies at their next reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled gen­er­al elec­tion. The remain­ing thir­teen require that a spe­cial elec­tion be called. And only four states pro­hib­it the gov­er­nor from mak­ing an inter­im appoint­ment, requir­ing instead that the seat remain vacant until the next elec­tion (whether reg­u­lar or spe­cial) is held. In anoth­er three, the gov­er­nor may make an appoint­ment to fill the vacan­cy tem­porar­i­ly, but only under very strict conditions.

Cal­i­for­nia is one of the states that per­mits vacan­cies to be filled by guber­na­to­r­i­al appoint­ment. This means that if Kamala Har­ris becomes Vice Pres­i­dent, Cal­i­for­nia Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som will have the respon­si­bil­i­ty of pick­ing Har­ris’ imme­di­ate suc­ces­sor… a weighty oblig­a­tion. Beyond choos­ing a per­son for one of the most pow­er­ful leg­isla­tive posi­tions in the coun­try, he has a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to infuse the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s lead­er­ship with new blood.

Despite the state’s rel­a­tive­ly young demo­graph­ics, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is dom­i­nat­ed at the high­est lev­els by its old guard.

Before Har­ris joined the Sen­ate in 2017, both of California’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors had been in their seats since 1993.

Jer­ry Brown, Newsom’s pre­de­ces­sor as gov­er­nor, served two terms in the 1970s, and returned to the governor’s man­sion in 2011 a the age of seventy-three.

New­som has a lot of fac­tors to weigh in his decision.

Giv­en the cur­rent racial cli­mate in the U.S. and with the demo­graph­ic make­up of the Gold­en State, it would be fool­ish to not pick a can­di­date of color.

Fur­ther­more, Cal­i­for­nia has a large Lat­inx pop­u­la­tion, and yet the state has nev­er sent any­one from that quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty to the Senate.

New­som would also be wise to take into account the polit­i­cal lean­ings of his state. While New­som is aligned with more busi­­ness-friend­­ly ele­ments of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (unsur­pris­ing, giv­en his own suc­cess as a hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try entre­pre­neur), the state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic base is solid­ly progressive.

How­ev­er, with Gavin New­som, it’s nev­er a sim­ple polit­i­cal calculation.

The Gov­er­nor has a rep­u­ta­tion for being impul­sive, occa­sion­al­ly reck­less, and unable to sep­a­rate the per­son­al from the polit­i­cal. New­som is also a man with pres­i­den­tial ambi­tions of his own, and his choice could be influ­enced by how it will affect his own future elec­toral prospects. A list of poten­tial can­di­dates for the Sen­ate seat, there­fore, prob­a­bly looks some­thing like the below.

Lon­don Breed

London Breed is the Mayor of San Francisco

Gov­er­nor New­som start­ed his polit­i­cal career in San Fran­cis­co and has always felt at home in the city. It is no sur­prise then that he and the cur­rent may­or, Lon­don Breed, are report­ed to be close polit­i­cal allies with some­thing of a men­­tor-mentee rela­tion­ship. New­som has open­ly fed Breed’s polit­i­cal ambi­tions, encour­ag­ing her to think of her­self as “the future ex-may­or of San Francisco.”

Even with­out a per­son­al rela­tion­ship with New­som, Breed’s tal­ents and per­son­al his­to­ry make her a com­pelling candidate.

Despite a child­hood spent in pover­ty, her excel­lent aca­d­e­m­ic record allowed her to climb lad­ders, first in edu­ca­tion then in pol­i­tics, until she became the first African-Amer­i­­can woman to assume her city’s may­oral­ty. Breed has been praised for her fast response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, with The Atlantic describ­ing her actions as “a nation­al mod­el in fight­ing the pandemic.”

Alex Padil­la

Alex Padilla is California's Secretary of State

Alex Padil­la has been serv­ing in impor­tant elect­ed offices (Pres­i­dent of Los Ange­les’ City Coun­cil, state sen­a­tor, and cur­rent­ly as Sec­re­tary of State) since the age of twen­ty-six, and he is still three years shy of his fifti­eth birthday.

The advan­tages of pick­ing Padil­la would be numer­ous. Besides being a ver­sa­tile politi­cian with an impres­sive résumé, Padil­la is a per­son­al friend and ear­ly endors­er of New­som, a Mex­i­­can-Amer­i­­can whose par­ents immi­grat­ed to the U.S., and a native of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (a region whose res­i­dents some­times resent the polit­i­cal dom­i­nance of fig­ures from the Bay Area in their state’s politics).

Xavier Becer­ra

Xavier Becerra is California's Attorney General

Xavier Becer­ra is Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Commp­ns license)

Kamala Har­ris cement­ed her rep­u­ta­tion as a U.S. sen­a­tor by bring­ing her pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al skills to bear against a vari­ety Trump cronies dur­ing Sen­ate Com­mit­tee hear­ings. One way to car­ry on her work in the Sen­ate would be to appoint her suc­ces­sor as Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Xavier Becerra.

Since his appoint­ment to the job in 2017, Becer­ra has waged a war of legal attri­tion with the Trump regime, fil­ing or join­ing over nine­ty law­suits against mea­sures on immi­gra­tion, envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, pub­lic lands and many more issues.

While Becer­ra is a lit­tle old­er than oth­er like­ly can­di­dates (six­ty-two years old), he is around the aver­age age of the U.S. Sen­ate. His sta­tus as Cal­i­for­ni­a’s first Lati­no Attor­ney Gen­er­al could also please the Lati­no constituency.

Becer­ra is also no stranger to Wash­ing­ton D.C. politics.

He served in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for twelve terms, includ­ing a four-year stint as the Chair of the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Caucus.

Becerra’s expe­ri­ence of bat­tling the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion – along with his insid­er knowl­edge of D.C. cir­cles – would make him a key ally of a future Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion, and a lethal oppo­nent of Sen­ate Republicans.

Eric Garcetti

Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles

Eric Garcetti is the may­or of Los Ange­les (Pho­to: Engage LA, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

If Gov­er­nor New­som wants to make his­to­ry, he could do worse than appoint­ing the cur­rent May­or of Los Ange­les, Eric Garcetti. Garcetti is already a ground­break­ing politi­cian: the youngest ever may­or of Los Ange­les, its the first Jew­ish may­or, and its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Mex­i­­can-Amer­i­­can may­or. Garcetti is ener­getic, and bet­ter than most politi­cians at stay­ing cul­tur­al­ly as well as polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant.

How­ev­er, expect­ing Gov­er­nor New­som – who is con­tem­plat­ing his own pres­i­den­tial run as “the charm­ing, good look­ing Cal­i­forn­ian guy” in the near future – to allow a sim­i­lar­ly ambi­tious Cal­i­forn­ian who is just a lit­tle younger and a lit­tle more charis­mat­ic to mount the kind of spring­board that has launched many Democ­rats in to the pres­i­den­cy is per­haps ask­ing a lit­tle much.

Fur­ther­more, Garcetti may not even need the leg up; reports are cir­cu­lat­ing that he may be offered a cab­i­net posi­tion if Biden wins in November.

U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives

Cal­i­for­nia has fifty-three seats in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, forty-five of which are held by Democ­rats. Gov­er­nor New­som may well choose to ele­vate a per­son who already rep­re­sents the state in Wash­ing­ton D.C., espe­cial­ly since California’s Con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion has a wealth of expe­ri­ence and rep­re­sents the diver­si­ty of the par­ty in both ide­ol­o­gy and ethnicity.

Cal­i­for­nia is home to some of the high­­est-rank­ing and most expe­ri­enced leg­is­la­tors in the coun­try; notably, both the Speak­er of the House (Nan­cy Pelosi) and the oppo­si­tion leader (Kevin McCarthy) are Cal­i­for­ni­ans. Pos­si­ble can­di­dates from the House include Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Karen Bass (who was recent­ly con­sid­ered by the Biden cam­paign for Vice Pres­i­dent) and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Adam Schiff (who gained fame, and some infamy, for his promi­nent role in Trump’s impeachment).

New­som could also court favor with the pow­er­ful pro­gres­sive branch of the par­ty by choos­ing a can­di­date like Bar­bara Lee (a hero among pro­gres­sives for her soli­tary 2001 vote against the inva­sion of Afghanistan) or Ro Khan­na (a chief advo­cate of Bernie Sanders who co-chaired the Sen­a­tor’s 2020 campaign).

Many Cal­i­for­nia pro­gres­sive activists dis­trust New­som, to the extent that they chose to exclude him from the state’s del­e­ga­tion to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. Pick­ing a pro­gres­sive for the seat could hep repair the relationship.

How­ev­er, all of these rep­re­sen­ta­tives have a com­mon prob­lem, from Newsom’s per­spec­tive: the fact that they spend most of their time in Wash­ing­ton D.C. means that none have devel­oped par­tic­u­lar­ly close work­ing rela­tion­ships with him. And he may be inclined to pick some­one he knows well.

Of course, New­som will only have to fill a vacan­cy if Biden and Har­ris win in Novem­ber, which, while prob­a­ble, is by no means set in stone.

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One Comment

  1. New­som could even step down and have his suc­ces­sor pick him­self for the job. Of course, that has not worked well for gov­er­nors who have done that.

    # by Mike Barer :: October 2nd, 2020 at 7:51 PM