(Bloomberg) -- California Governor Gavin Newsom will appoint Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill the remainder of late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s term, making her the only Black woman in the current US Senate and just the third in its history.
Feinstein, 90, died last week following months of poor health. Appointing Butler will allow Newsom to fulfill his pledge to select a Black woman to represent California after Kamala Harris became vice president in 2021, vacating her seat as junior senator.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in a statement late Sunday.
Before leading Emily’s List, Butler had a history as a longtime labor leader in California, including having served as president of SEIU Local 2015, the biggest union in the state. As a partner at political consulting firm SCRB Strategies, she advised and represented Uber Technologies Inc. in its dealings with organized labor.
Newsom spokesman Anthony York dismissed any controversy over Butler being based in the greater Washington, DC, area, where she moved to from Los Angeles for Emily’s List, saying via text that “she owns a home in California” and is re-registering in the state. He cited the example of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who re-registered in Wyoming before being announced as George W. Bush’s running mate.
Read More: Dianne Feinstein, Longest-Serving Female Senator, Dies at 90
At Emily’s List, Butler has worked to elect Democratic, pro-choice women to office. She has previously worked for prominent female leaders, including on Harris’s presidential campaign. She was also a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in California.
Newsom, whose national political profile has been on the rise, is moving quickly to fill the seat. Democrats in the narrowly divided Senate were already facing turmoil with most having asked New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to resign after his indictment on federal corruption charges. He told his colleagues at a meeting Thursday he would remain in the Senate, and has denied wrongdoing.
Senator Alex Padilla of California, who Newsom appointed to replace Harris, noted the importance of having the seat filled.
“Throughout her career, Laphonza Butler has been a strong voice for working families, LGBTQ rights, and a champion for increasing women’s representation in politics,” Padilla said in a statement.
By appointing Butler, Newsom will avoid picking someone already in the running for Feinstein’s seat. Longtime Representative Barbara Lee, who is the highest-ranking Black woman appointed to Democratic leadership, is up against fellow Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, two of the House’s top fundraisers who have already amassed millions of dollars each for their bids.
Lee had criticized Newsom’s remarks that he would pick a Black woman only to serve as a caretaker to complete Feinstein’s term as “insulting.” After Newsom’s decision was announced, Lee posted a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying she will “look forward to working with her.”
Butler grew up in Magnolia, Mississippi, and attended Jackson State University. She lives in Maryland with her partner and their daughter, according to her profile on Emily’s List’s website.
--With assistance from Karen Breslau, Shiyin Chen and Josh Eidelson.
(Adds statement from Representative Barbara Lee about Newsom’s decision in second-to-last paragraph.)
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