Breaking: Newsom appoints Padilla to replace Harris in Senate

The talking point from Gavin Newsom’s office will be Governor appoints first California Latino to US Senate. The subtext will be Newsom snubs blacks, women in replacing Kamala Harris. 

The New York Times leads with the former in reporting Alex Padilla’s appointment, but they don’t overlook the latter:

Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, has been appointed to fill the Senate seat held by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday, capping months of intense political jockeying among Democratic factions in the state.

The son of Mexican-born immigrants who settled in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, Mr. Padilla, 47, will be the first Latino senator from California, where Latinos are about 40 percent of the population. …

The decision followed months of deliberation by Mr. Newsom and lobbying by California’s myriad political factions for a position whose occupant will need not only the experience to work effectively in Washington, but also the money and political base to hold the seat in 2022, when Ms. Harris’s term ends.

California progressives had pushed Mr. Newsom to appoint Representative Barbara Lee or another like-minded Democrat. Mr. Newsom was also under pressure to appoint a Black woman to take the place of Ms. Harris, the only Black woman in the Senate. Representative Karen Bass and Ms. Lee were at the top of that list.

Unless Newsom had taken leave of his senses, Lee would never have been the choice. Bass, however, had her profile raised substantially over the summer when she got shortlisted as a potential Joe Biden running mate. Her flirtations with Castroism, not to mention her embrace of Fidel himself, made her toxic for Biden in a national election, but that might not have been much of a problem in the People’s Republic of California. Appointing Bass would have allowed Newsom to claim credit for maintaining a presence of a black woman in the US Senate, no small issue these days. Instead, Newsom chose a Latino male to replace Harris, which is an eyebrow-raising choice regardless of Padilla’s qualities in a party obsessed with identity politics.

Of course, Newsom knows he might face a serious recall effort in the next few weeks. Strengthening support with 40% of the population does make a certain amount of political sense.

This seems to signal that Dianne Feinstein isn’t inclined to pull Newsom’s chestnuts out of the fire after all, or at least not at the moment. Pressure had been mounting in California to get Feinstein to resign so that Newsom could appoint two senators, allowing him to pander to both constituencies. If Newsom thought a Feinstein resignation/retirement was imminent, the safer choice for replacing Harris would have been Bass, and then reserving the other seat for either Padilla or Xavier Becerra to score on both identity-politics points. Becerra’s been nominated for HHS by Joe Biden, but he’s not likely to get through a Senate confirmation hearing for multiple reasons. Appointing Becerra would have saved Biden a headache in the first days of his administration, and allowed Biden the chance to rethink the HHS choice in the middle of a pandemic.

As it is, though, Newsom will have to wait and see whether he ever gets a chance to make things up with blacks and women in California. Don’t expect them to let this slide quietly in the meantime.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022
David Strom 4:41 PM on September 26, 2022