/Newsom faces pressure to fill Harris seat with woman of color instead of presumed favorite

Newsom faces pressure to fill Harris seat with woman of color instead of presumed favorite



Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and California Gov. Gavin Newsom bring food to firefighters in Clovis, Calif.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and California Gov. Gavin Newsom bring food to firefighters in Clovis, Calif. | Gary Kazanjian/AP Photo

OAKLAND, Calif. — As speculation grows that Gov. Gavin Newsom is leaning toward California elections chief Alex Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a crowd of top Democratic donors and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown are launching an aggressive campaign to argue that another woman of color should fill that seat instead.

Brown, the former longtime speaker of the California Assembly, said he’s launching a drive Monday to organize Black churches, pastors, civic leaders, fraternal organizations and prominent members of the Black press statewide to urge Newsom to consider leading Black women for the seat. Among the leading choices, he said, are Reps. Barbara Lee, Karen Bass and Maxine Waters; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; and state Sen. Holly Mitchell.

“There’s no way that Gavin Newsom should allow anyone other than a Black woman to fill the seat of Harris, who’s only the second Black woman in the history of the U.S. Senate,” Brown told POLITICO on Sunday. “There should be no contest.”

Brown’s campaign comes as some 150 of the state’s top female Democratic donors on Monday will publish full-page newspaper ads with an open letter urging Newsom to pick a woman of color, Vox reported Sunday.

The letter is officially authored by two donor groups, Electing Women Bay Area and the Los Angeles Women’s Collective. Signatories include Silicon Valley psychiatrist Karla Jurvetson, one of the country’s biggest Democratic donors; Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist and Democratic fundraiser; Susan Pritzker, a scion of the hotel family that has boosted Newsom’s political career over the years; and Dagmar Dolby, the billionaire philanthropist, Vox reported. The full list of donors will appear in ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.

Other leading advocacy groups like SheThePeople, which promotes women in politics, have called on Newsom to name a woman of color to the seat. The group’s founder, Aimee Allison, said Lee’s long-running advocacy for the Black community and progressive causes should make her the natural choice for the plum U.S. Senate seat.

Under state law, Newsom can appoint a replacement to fill Harris’ seat until her term expires in 2022. Various groups are lobbying Newsom, from Indian Americans backing Rep. Ro Khanna to LGBT leaders who say Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins or Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia deserve the nod.

It could amount to virtually a lifetime appointment, considering the way Democrats dominate California politics. Newsom is unlikely to pick a caretaker who would leave after two years.

Ramped-up calls for a woman of color come as sources believe Newsom is leaning heavily toward picking California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. He would be the first Latino U.S. Senator in the state’s 170-year history. Picking a statewide officeholder like Padilla would give Newsom two appointments since he also could choose their replacement.

Padilla, a longtime friend and supporter of Newsom — and of California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein — said Sunday on the Central Valley’s Sunday Morning Matters talk show that “a diversity of perspectives is important in the representation for California in the United States Senate.”

“The Latino community specifically represents 40 percent of the population — but that diversity is one of a number of considerations I’m sure that the governor is weighing,” Padilla said. “We’ll respect his his decision, whenever he makes it known.”

Latino elected leaders and organizations have also increased their pressure on Newsom for the Senate seat, even holding a recent Sacramento press conference to remind him that “we are long overdue.”

The Sacramento Bee reported a myriad of civic groups — including the California Latino Legislative Caucus, the Latino Community Foundation and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials — intend to hold a series of press conferences in four cities calling on Newsom to make the historic appointment.

But Brown said that given the key role that Black women played in 2020 voter turnout, along with Harris being only the second Black woman in the Senate, should force Newsom to “jump at the chance to put a Black woman in.”

“It would have the same historic appeal as same-sex marriage in 2004,” Brown added, referring to Newsom’s groundbreaking move declaring marriage equality as San Francisco mayor.

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