Governor ‘stole’ Harris’ Senate seat, activists say

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Appointment of Alex Padilla draws wrath of South L.A. community leaders

Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — Black activists are accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom of “stealing” a seat from a Black woman after he appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

At a press conference Dec. 22 shortly after Newsom had announced his appointment of Padilla, a former Los Angeles city councilman, to the Senate seat, the Rev. William D. Smart, head of the Southern California chapter of the Southern Christian leadership Conference, and activist Najee Ali blasted Newsom.

“You better watch out, Gavin Newsom,” Smart said. “You disrespected the Black community today.”

Smart said Newsom didn’t have the vision to see that this was a Black-held seat and that another Black woman should have been appointed to replace Harris in the Senate.

“This is not a Black versus Latino issue,” Ali said. This is right versus wrong.”

Both Ali and Smart said Newsom was more concerned about appeasing the Latino community because of rumors about a potential recall campaign against the governor because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another activist also said Newsom turned his back on Blacks.

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 leaves Black constituents with no African-American women in the Senate. The Padilla pick effectively diminishes Black political strength in California and Congress.”

But Rep. Karen Bass, one of the Blacks that Hutchinson and other activists were pushing for Newsom to appoint, congratulated Padilla on his appointment.

“Today, our state gains yet another champion following a distinguished line of individuals who have shattered glass ceilings and hurdled obstacles in their way,” Bass said in a statement issued by her office. “After then-Senator Harris’s historic election in 2016 as the first woman of color to represent California, we now have another historic barrier shattered as Alex will be the first Latino to serve California in the United States Senate.

“I’ve known Alex dating back to when he served our city as the youngest-ever president of the Los Angeles City Council,” Bass added. “We served together in the state Legislature where he passed landmark legislation to make California the first state in the nation to require chain restaurants to post calorie information directly on menus. More recently, as our secretary of state, Alex modernized our electoral process and led the effort to provide ballots by mail statewide so Californians could safely vote in this year’s election.

Hours after Newsom announced his choice of Padilla, 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 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 his statement announcing the appointment. “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.”

Padilla, 47, has been secretary of state since 2015. Prior to that, he served in the state Senate representing parts of the San Fernando Valley. 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”