California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was chosen Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
The selection makes Padilla the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate.
“The son of Mexican immigrants — a cook and house cleaner — Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the state Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s secretary of state,” Newsom said in a statement. “Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol as California’s next United States Senator, the first Latino to hold this office.
“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a senator for all Californians,” Newsom said.
Padilla, 47, has been secretary of state since 2015. Prior to that, he served in the state Senate representing the 20th District. He spent more than seven years on the Los Angeles City Council representing the Seventh District in the northeastern San Fernando Valley. He was the council president for five years — the youngest and first Latino to ever hold that post.
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering, Padilla worked for Hughes Aircraft before turning to politics. Padilla was raised in the Pacoima area and continues to live with his wife and three sons in the San Fernando Valley.
“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”
The selection, while hailed by Hispanic community groups and elected officials, earned a rebuke from some who were pushing for Newsom to appoint a Black woman to the post.
“Newsom clearly thumbed his nose at Black voters in picking Padilla,” civil rights advocate Earl Ofari Hutchinson said. “He passed over several eminently qualified African-American congressional leaders with vast legislative and congressional experience. Worse, this now leave Black constituents with no African-American women in the Senate. The Padilla pick effectively diminishes Black political strength in California and Congress.”
But hours after Newsom announced his choice of Padilla for the U.S. Senate, the governor nominated Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to take over as secretary of state. If confirmed by the Legislature, Weber will become the first Black woman to ever hold that position. Weber has been in the Assembly since 2012 and chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus.
The state Republican Party lashed out at Padilla’s selection to the Senate, continuing to accuse him of misusing federal CARES Act funds to hire a pro-Biden contractor during the recent election.
“Californians deserve to have a U.S. senator that has a strong track record of working for all Californians, not a liberal politician willing to engage in voter suppression to advance his party politics,” state Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials hailed the selection as “historic.”
“Governor Newsom’s appointment of Secretary Padilla as the first Latino to serve as U.S. senator to represent California is consistent with the core California values he has embraced and we applaud his decision to ensure representation in the U.S. Senate for a historically underrepresented constituency,” according to the association. “Secretary Padilla is a tireless policy entrepreneur and his appointment will greatly enrich the representation of California and the governance of our nation.”
California’s other Senator, Dianne Feinstein, called Padilla an “excellent choice.”
“I very much look forward to working closely with Alex and I believe that together we can be a strong team for California’s benefit,” Feinstein said. “… Crucially, Alex is someone who understands the many challenges that Californians are facing, and I believe he is very well-suited to fight for them for years to come. I also believe Alex brings a critically important voice to the Senate as the first Latino senator from California.”
Mark J. Gonzalez, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, praised the selection of Padilla, but also acknowledged the loss of a Black female voice in the Senate.
“With the United States Senate losing the sole Black woman voice in the upper chamber, Democrats must commit to redoubling our efforts to recruit, guide and uplift Black leaders up and down the ballot,” he said. “L.A. Democrats stand ready to work with both Senator Padilla and Vice President Harris to do just that, work on behalf of our nation, and uphold our Democratic Party principles. When Los Angeles leads, California and the nation succeeds.”