Alex Padilla is California's Secretary of State
Alex Padilla is California's Secretary of State (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

After Joe Biden announced that Kamala Har­ris would be his run­ning mate ahead of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, peo­ple imme­di­ate­ly began won­der­ing who might be her suc­ces­sor in the Sen­ate. Indeed, it was the sub­ject of an ear­li­er “Scram­ble for the Sen­ate” post here on The Cas­ca­dia Advocate!

This week, Cal­i­for­nia Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som end­ed that spec­u­la­tion by announc­ing that Sec­re­tary of State Alex Padil­la would fill the emp­ty seat.

After the announce­ment, Padil­la thanked Gov­er­nor New­som and laid out his pri­or­i­ties – health­care, vac­cine access, and eco­nom­ic recovery.

Although Newsom’s tur­bu­lent polit­i­cal and per­son­al his­to­ry made the Governor’s deci­­sion-mak­ing process hard to pre­dict (there was even base­less spec­u­lat­ation that he might pick him­self!), his choice of Padil­la shows excel­lent polit­i­cal acumen.

As the son of work­ing class Mex­i­can immi­grants, Padil­la will be California’s first Lati­no U.S. Sen­a­tor – a major win for an eth­nic group that makes up forty per­cent of California’s pop­u­la­tion. As a per­son of col­or from the south of the state, he will also be received favor­ably or neu­tral­ly by a myr­i­ad of pow­er­ful fac­tions that were open­ly lob­by­ing for the U.S. Sen­ate seat. It helps that he was backed by sit­ting U.S. Sen­a­tor Dianne Fein­stein and the pow­er­ful Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Caucus.

“Padil­la won two statewide elec­tions against Repub­li­cans over the last sev­en years,” the Cal­i­for­nia-based polling firm Lati­no Deci­sions not­ed in a com­men­tary. “He won in 2014, by a sev­en point mar­gin, and then again in 2018 by an almost thir­ty point blowout against the Repub­li­can challenger.”

Padil­la has built a nation­al rep­u­ta­tion as a cham­pi­on for elec­tion integri­ty. Lati­no Deci­sions’

“In a recent Lati­no Deci­sions Statewide sur­vey of Lati­no reg­is­tered vot­ers, we asked ‘How much trust and con­fi­dence would you have that your mail bal­lot would be returned and count­ed in the elec­tion?’ In total, almost eighty per­cent of Lati­nos said they were total­ly con­fi­dent or some­what con­fi­dent in Cal­i­for­ni­a’s vote by mail sys­tem. At a time when Pres­i­dent Trump has tire­less­ly attacked our elec­tion sys­tem in a des­per­ate attempt to dele­git­imize our vot­ing sys­tems, Padil­la has been a stead­fast fight­er for the integri­ty of our elections.”

Padil­la became a mem­ber of Los Ange­les’ City Coun­cil at the age of twen­ty-six, and has since been the city’s youngest Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, served two terms in the State Sen­ate, and (as men­tioned) won elec­tion as Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of State twice. He’s still three years shy of his fifti­eth birthday!

For­mer Attor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er, the nation’s first Black Attor­ney Gen­er­al, who served under Barack Oba­ma, praised Padil­la’s selec­tion in a tweet.

“A superb choice. As an accom­plished Sec­re­tary of State, Alex has been a leader in the fight to pro­tect our democ­ra­cy. He’ll be a great Sen­a­tor,” said Hold­er.

Though Har­ris is resign­ing as a mem­ber of the Sen­ate, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that she is not leav­ing the insti­tu­tion, so com­ments to the effect of When Har­ris is gone, there will be no Black women in the Sen­ate are not accurate.

As Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, Har­ris will also be the Pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate, and will even fre­quent­ly wield an all-impor­tant tiebreak­ing vote if Democ­rats win both of Geor­gia’s U.S. Sen­ate runoffs next month.

Those dis­ap­point­ed that Har­ris won’t be suc­ceed­ed by a Black woman would also do well to remem­ber that Dianne Fein­stein is said to be con­tem­plat­ing step­ping down before her term ends. There might just be anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty for Gavin New­som (or his suc­ces­sor) to fill a Unit­ed States Sen­ate vacancy.

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