Gavin Newsom had to know this was coming, right? For most governors, an opportunity to appoint a replacement to the US Senate is a political boon. As Rod Blagojevich once declared, it’s “a f*****g valuable thing.” In California, however, it has become an albatross to Newsom, who had to decide which identity groups he would anger with his choice to replace VP-elect Kamala Harris.
Newsom chose Alex Padilla and promoted his longtime ally as California’s first Latino member of the upper chamber. It didn’t take long for the inevitable backlash over the snubbing of both blacks and women, including this from San Francisco mayor London Breed (via Townhall and Mediaite):
— Stephanie Sierra (@StephanieABC7) December 22, 2020
“What was your initial reaction to the governor appointing Alex Padilla to fill Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ US Senate seat?” asked Stephanie Sierra of ABC7, adding “How do you feel about the fact that there are no Black women represented in the US Senate? Was this a missed opportunity?”
“I think that there was a lot of pride when not only Kamala was selected as the vice president, the nomination for the party, and is now our vice president-elect for the country, and especially with that pride came, I believe, another opportunity, with her seat, to ensure as she continues to say, that even though you may be the first, make sure you’re not the last,” Mayor Breed said.
“And the sad reality is she was the only African-American woman in the Senate at this time,” Breed continued. “And when you think about the history of this country, of the challenges that exist for African Americans, especially African-American women in the Senate, definitely this is a real blow to the African-American community, to African-American women, to women in general, and I think it’s really challenging to put it in words.”
“But it was definitely a surprise and it’s an unfortunate situation as we are trying to move this country forward and making sure that Black lives truly matter, and that African-Americans have a seat at the table, especially African-American women, after what was done in this race on a national level. Definitely is unfortunate,” Mayor Breed said.
Apparently this did not go unnoticed by leadership among California Democrats. A few hours later, Tommy Christopher notes, Breed tried to walk this back a bit by hailing the “historic” nature of Padilla’s appointment:
This is a historic day in California, esp for the Latino community. Congratulations @AlexPadilla4CA on your appointment to the Senate. We have a lot of work to do to advance the rights of immigrants & people of color in this country & I know you will be leading that fight in DC.
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) December 23, 2020
Maybe this means Newsom won’t have as much trouble over this as we might have thought, but … I wouldn’t bet that way. Democrats have made identity politics even more of a focus, perhaps in part because those priorities failed in their presidential primaries in the end. Despite all of the demands for a nominee who reflected the diversity within the party, Democrats ended up nominating an old white man who’s been in Washington since gas sold for 25 cents a gallon.
They’re fortunate in that Biden might have been the only candidate who could have beaten Trump, as the down-ballot results showed the electorate very much in center-right mode. However, it seems to have amplified the need for performative diversity, including from Biden himself in making his Cabinet appointments. That eventually will lead to competing demands for narrow resources and spoils, which Newsom’s conundrum this week demonstrates. It won’t be the last time a Democrat governor has to choose winners between demographics, and it will only get uglier from here on out.