California first: A Latino US senator to replace HarrisWednesday, December 23, 2020
CALIFORNIA, United States (AP) — California Governor Gavin Newsom selected Secretary of State Alex Padilla yesterday to be a US senator, a pick that sends a Latino to the Senate for the first time in the state's history.
A video released by Newsom's office showed Padilla becoming emotional after Newsom, a close friend, offered him the job. Padilla reflected on the hard work of his parents, who came to the United States from Mexico and worked as a cook and a housekeeper.
“It's a hell of an important perspective to bring to Washington,” he told Newsom.
Padilla, 47, was the favourite in a crowded field of possibilities to fill out the remainder of Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris' term. She plans to step down from the seat in January ahead of Inauguration Day on January 20.
Padilla will need to run for a full six-year term in 2022. The appointment gives him an advantage, but he's still likely to face challengers, some within his own party. California's top-two primary system allows two Democrats to face off in a general election.
“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in DC, lifting up our state's values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement.
Padilla's appointment gives a new level of representation to Latinos, who make up the state's single largest demographic group at nearly 40 per cent of the population of almost 40 million.
But Newsom's choice means there will be no black women in the 100-member Senate. Harris, whose father is Jamaican and mother Indian, was the only black woman in the Senate, and black leaders had been lobbying Newsom to appoint either US Representative Karen Bass or House colleague Barbara Lee to replace her.
“Secretary Padilla has a track record as a skilled legislator and a steadfast advocate for justice, and I believe he will be a powerful voice in the Senate for those who continue to be denied our country's promise of equality,” Lee said in a statement.
Bass, who had been vocal about the need for the Senate to have a black woman, congratulated Padilla, a fellow Los Angeles native with whom she served in the legislature. She said Padilla would be a “champion following a distinguished line of individuals who have shattered glass ceilings and hurdled obstacles in their way”.
The praise wasn't universal. Democrat London Breed, the first African American woman to be elected mayor of San Francisco, called the decision “unfortunate”.
“This is a real blow to the African American community, to African American women, to women in general, and I think it's really challenging to put it in words,” she said.
Padilla was first elected as California's secretary of state in 2014 and won a second term four years later. In that position, he has overseen California's vast elections apparatus, including the roll-out of a more robust vote-by-mail system.
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