Months of back-channel lobbying by California's political factions culminated Tuesday with Gov. Gavin. Newsom bequeathing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ U.S. Senate seat to Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
That gave Californians their first Latino senator but it deprives the 100-member chamber of any Black female representation. That put even more pressure on Newsom to name a woman of color to the posts vacated by Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s joining Joe Biden’s cabinet.
The AG post—coveted for being a springboard for higher office—has attracted interest from the Asian-Pacific Islander community, who’ve floated Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) as a reformer who could help undo harsh sentencing laws that filled the state’s prisons and jails. Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), has been gunning for the same role, touting his experience as a former public defender.
As for the Secretary of State gig, Newsom was positioned to make it a consolation prize for a contender bypassed for the Senate seat—which a number of groups hoped would go to another Black woman, with Reps. Barbara Lee and Karen Bass topping the list.
Some of the names bandied about for the position included Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Silicon Valley’s own Evan Low. Gonzalez, a labor-loyal Democrat, has openly courted the job. Low has taken a more wait-and-see approach, telling reporters Tuesday he plans “to serve in whatever capacity I can best contribute.”
The only person who’s donated to Low’s exploratory committee for a 2022 Secretary of State run happened to fit the profile Newsom was looking for, too: African-American Assemblywoman Autumn Burke.
Ultimately, in a surprisingly speedy decision, Newsom extended the offer to one of Burke’s colleagues. And with that, Shirley Weber—who’s taken on tough legislative fights over police brutality and racial injustice—becomes the fourth woman and first Black woman to hold the position in California history.
CADEM Chair Rusty Hicks applauded the appointments as major milestones.
The head of the state party commended Weber’s “dedication to uphold our democratic process,” which he said “she began at an early age as she led efforts to expand voting rights for our most vulnerable communities.”
“Her passion and people-powered advocacy work was demonstrated in her legislative agenda,” he continued in a news release Tuesday. “As a civil rights leader, she passed legislation to address food insecurity, paved the way for those who are often underrepresented and made it easier for all Californians to vote. In her very own words, ‘never allow one crisis, one event, one mishap or one misstep to take us down.’ In solidarity, CADEM is beyond thrilled to continue the work of reaching for a more perfect union with California’s Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley Weber.”
Low echoed the praise, calling Weber an “outstanding choice.”
“Anything is possible when passion meets purpose, and Assemblywoman Weber—who will become the first Black woman to hold the position—has been all about equity and results during her impressive career,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “She is an educator first and foremost, and her floor speeches were can’t-miss viewing. I have been honored to work alongside her in breaking down barriers to voting access, and I have been grateful for her allyship with the LGBTQ+ community. Our elections will be safe in her hands. I look forward to working with our next Secretary of State to modernize our voting systems while ensuring the voices of all California voters are heard.”
The Latino Leadership Alliance, one of 33 organizations to endorse Padilla as Harris’ successor, called Newsom’s decision a step in the right direction.
“In a year in which communities of color disproportionately shouldered the impacts of this global health pandemic and its economic fallout, it has never been more clear why our voice must be at the table, why our communities must be represented,” the coalition wrote in a statement issued to reporters Tuesday. “Today’s appointment is one step in that direction, and we applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking it. Secretary of State Alex Padilla has worked tirelessly to ensure voting access to all Californians. He has the qualifications and experience to be an excellent leader and provide the proper representation for the Latino community and all Californians.”