Days after the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Governor Gavin Newsom has chosen her successor: Laphonza Butler (44).
Although she does not belong to the range of options that was initially considered, Butler's choice satisfies Newsom's promise to elect a black woman. In the governor's words, she is: "The first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate." A staunch defender of abortion and Kamala Harris, Butler is far from just that.
I'm proud to announce California's new United States Senator -- Laphonza Butler.
As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for -- reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence -- have never been under greater assault.… pic.twitter.com/SOnbfVPmXj
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 2, 2023
Butler is president of EMILY's List , an association that promotes the election of Democratic women who "lead the way on abortion rights, voting rights, and standing up against the extremist Republican agenda." The organization claims to have promoted the election of more than 1,500 candidates at the state, federal and local levels.
Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts and former candidate for the Democratic nomination, and Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota and likewise former candidate, are some of the politicians featured on EMILY's List. Although the most resonant name of those 'graced' by the organization is Kamala Harris.
"Vice President Harris has been a steadfast fighter throughout her career for women and their abortion rights, a role that is more important than ever before," Butler said when announcing that they would support the re-election of the Biden-Harris duo. in 2024.
It is not the first time she has supported Harris: she collaborated as an advisor in her frustrated presidential race in 2020, as she did with Hillay Clinton's. Her organization also claims to have promoted - but with more success - the now vice president in all of her previous campaigns.
LGBT, union and anti-Trump agenda
"This historic appointment will give our LGBTQ+ community another voice in Congress at a time when our rights and freedoms are under attack across the country," celebrated the announcement Tony Hoang, executive director of the LGBTQ organization Equality California.
"We look forward to working with Laphonza as she steps into this new role and continues her lifelong fight for our shared values of equity, freedom and justice for all."
— Equality California (@eqca) October 2, 2023
Butler also has two decades of union activity. At age 30, she was president of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 2015, a California union organization that represents the state's long-term care workers. Previously she was part of the State Council of the institution in California and its international branch.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, during its last year in the union, the SEIU put its portfolio and its members at the service of Newsom's gubernatorial campaign - in addition to that of Kevin de León, who tried to take the position from Feinstein - . She also worked to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Butler, likewise, has been and is an open opponent of former President Trump.
Donald Trump has told so many lies, it’s hard to keep track. He is trying to muddy his unpopular positions to mislead voters. His record is clear: Donald Trump proudly named the SCOTUS justices who overturned Roe. He WILL sign a federal abortion ban. He cannot win the WH again.
— Laphonza Butler (@LaphonzaB) September 18, 2023
The seat that Butler will occupy includes an expiration date: the 2024 elections . Feinstein had announced that she would not run for re-election, leaving the field open to other Democratic nominations.
Butler could take advantage of her new position in the Senate and campaign experience - and the resources of EMILY's List - to win the seat assigned to him by Newsom at the polls.
The governor would have given him free rein to compete in the elections, according to statements by communications advisor Anthony York reported by AP. If he runs and wins, it would be the first time he has held public elected office in his long political career.
From Maryland to California
Butler, who grew up and graduated in Political Science and Government in Mississippi, today lives, according to local media, with her partner Neneki Lee and a daughter in Maryland. Reason why her choice was criticized:
"It looks like Newsom may be appointing a Maryland resident to serve as California’s Senator. If he was getting that desperate, I was prepared to offer my services," joked Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher.
— James Gallagher (@J_GallagherAD3) October 2, 2023
Newsom spokeswoman Izzy Gardon argued that despite living in Maryland, Butler has a home in California, according to Time. (Although in a speech in 2023 Butler assured she had moved to Los Angeles.) Therefore, she must register to vote in the Golden State before taking office as a senator. It is expected to happen starting Tuesday, when the Senate resumes its sessions.