by Senator Dianne Feinstein weekslong absence from Washington as she recovered from shingles led not only to calls for retirement, but also to focus attention on Governor Gavin Newsom’s promise to appoint a Black woman if either U.S. Senate seat California’s States are open.
While Feinstein on Wednesday vow to return to the Capitol before retiring at the end of his term in early 2025, black leaders in California wondered if the governor’s sincerity remained. Stirring those doubts: Newsom has been silent about who he supports in the state’s 2024 Senate race to succeed Feinstein, even although this field include just a horrible black woman candidate: Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of Oakland.
Aimee Allison, founder and president of She is a person, an advocacy group that promotes more women of color to hold elected office. “The governor could complicate his legacy and push Black women, who in this state are an important and important voting bloc, to look at him cynically as unprepared. Please support us when that counts.”
The 100-member Senate does not have a single Black woman, the void left when Kamala Harris, a running mate of President Biden in 2020, was sworn in as vice president and vacated her seat in California.
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Despite pressure on Newsom to appoint a Black woman to take Harris’s place, the Democratic governor instead Mining then-Minister of State Alex Padilla, a longtime political ally who made history as California’s first Latino senator. To stave off criticism, Newsom pledged to appoint a Black woman if another Senate seat became vacant, which is not a far-fetched possibility given reports that Feinstein, now 89, cognitive impairment.
With Feinstein’s retirement plan ready cement, some black elected leaders and political activists are questioning why Newsom has not endorsed Lee. The Progressives in the House are up against two Democratic colleagues, Representatives Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, who have raised more money than Lee and are doing better in the events. survey.
“We still don’t have a black female senator in those halls. [Newsom] may be part of history. Right?” Representative Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), who supported Lee alongside Schiff in the primaries, said.
If Feinstein resigns before November 2024, Newsom has the power to nominate someone to the chair until 2025. With Democrats controlling the Senate by a slim majority, Newsom will be under enormous pressure great in immediately appointing a successor.
In that scenario, whoever Newsom appoints would have an immediate advantage over other candidates, due to the enhanced public profile and fundraising ability of the Senate incumbents. Padilla, after being appointed by Newsom, overcame Democrats last year when he ran for his first full term and won easily over a Republican opponent.
As with last year’s Los Angeles mayoral race, Newsom seemed content to stay out as Lee, Schiff and Porter competed.
“There are three extremely qualified candidates in the race who have demonstrated the bravery needed to fight for California values in Washington, DC,” said Lindsey Cobia, senior political assistant to Newsom. “At this point, the governor will not weigh in on the race.”
A spokesman for Lee’s campaign declined to comment on Newsom’s decision but said “the congresswoman’s primary concern is Senator Feinstein’s health. She wishes the senator a full and speedy recovery.”
In 2020, Kamlager, then a state senator, and countless other Black elected leaders sent a letter to Newsom urged him to appoint Lee or then-U.S. Representative Karen Bass, now mayor of Los Angeles, to replace Harris. Harris is only the second Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate, after Senator Carol Mosley Braun (D-Ill).
Since reconstruction, only six black people was elected to the Senate.
Despite Newsom’s decision to appoint Padilla, both Lee and Bass throw their political organizing power stood behind the governor as he successfully resisted the 2021 recall attempt.
Newsom failed to do so when Bass launched his mayoral campaign and confronted Democrat businessman Rick Caruso, a former Republican. The governor said he did not want to participate in the Democratic versus Democratic contests. Some of Newsom’s top political advisers are working for Caruso.
“I have a lot of respect for both of them and I am not in that race,” Newsom said in a television interview.
The governor’s choice in the Senate race has a similar dynamic. Newsom’s political team spanned the campaigns of the top three Democratic candidates, and independent spending committees were formed to support them.
“For the second cycle in a row, he ignored the viable progressive black woman. So it’s a bit strange,” said Ludovic Blain, chief executive officer of California Donor Table. “When he didn’t endorse Karen Bass, it made me wonder about the commitment.”
As for me, Bass, who support Lee in March, has little to say about Newsom’s dilemma, telling The Times in a recent interview that “one of the things that I hate as an elected official is the choice among my friends.” Still, the opportunity to make history cannot be missed, she said.
“The fact that there are no African-American women in the Senate is very important,” she said at a recent reception for members of the Black Congressional Group visiting Los Angeles.
The political arm of the caucus has backed Lee, and its chairman, Congressman Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), recently traveled to Oakland to support her Senate campaign.
He said Lee “is the most qualified person to be in the US Senate at this time,” but acknowledged the current political realities in the Feinstein succession race.
“Nobody necessarily expected the seat to be open, but because it was open everyone had a chance to run for office,” Horsford said.
LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell in 2021 also urged Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace Harris. But now, Mitchell says, an open primary is not comparable to a time when an appointment is ready. Mitchell says she plans to make a preliminary confirmation but has yet to do so.
“That’s so big [Newsom] made the commitment in terms of appointment, and that didn’t happen,” she said. “As I told Ms. Lee when we spoke on the phone, I am extremely proud that she chose to participate in the race. Regardless of the outcome of California’s decision, there are black women who support, who are making moves, who will get into the United States Senate.”
Of the total fundraising announced by the candidates for the first quarter of 2023, Schiff received $6.5 million, Porter $4.5 million, and Lee $1.4 million.
Newsom’s national prominence and fundraising ability could be a boon for Lee, who lacks the fundraising firepower and voter familiarity of her Democratic rivals. A poll by the UC Berkeley Institute for Government Studies in February establish that Schiff received the support of 22% of registered voters, with 20% supporting Porter and 6% supporting Lee. The rest choose other candidates or have not yet decided.
At the time of the poll, there were no prominent Republicans in the race. Attorney Eric Early, who twice unsuccessfully ran for California attorney general, entered the race earlier this week.
Allison, of She is a personsaid she would love to see Newsom use her political influence behind the scenes to attract donors to Lee, and noted the importance of black female voters who vote Democratic credibly reliable and has influenced tight races around the country.
In particular, Newsom’s approval ratings are often the highest among Black registered voters. IN a Berkeley IGS poll conducted in February71% approve of the way he handles his work.
Allison compared Newsom’s commitment to President Biden’s commitment to appointing a Black woman to the US Supreme Court. in the 2020 presidential primaries. He followed with Nominated by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson two years later.
“We wouldn’t be satisfied with first-class service or below,” says Allison. “We want representation in the Senate.”
Times staff writers Taryn Luna and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.