In a late-night announcement on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Democratic strategist Laphonza Butler as the replacement for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, who passed away last week at the age of 90. Butler, currently the president of EMILY’s List and a former adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, is set to complete the remainder of Feinstein’s term in the U.S. Senate ahead of the 2024 election.
Governor Newsom, in a statement, described Butler as an advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris. He emphasized the need to continue the fight for freedoms such as reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence, issues Senator Feinstein championed during her long political career.
Butler’s appointment carries historical significance as she will be the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate and the first openly LGBTQ+ lawmaker to represent California in the Upper Chamber. This move aligns with Newsom’s previous commitment to appoint a Black woman to any Senate seat that becomes vacant, although it faced criticism from U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, who deemed the pledge as “insulting” to Black women due to the temporary nature of the appointment.
Notably, Butler’s connection to Maryland raised eyebrows as her EMILY’s List biography initially listed Silver Spring as her residence, and an FEC filing from August 31 also indicated a Maryland address. However, the information was swiftly removed from her profile after the announcement of her appointment.
Governor Newsom had previously pledged not to choose someone already running for the seat to avoid providing unfair advantages. This decision comes amid campaigns launched by Democratic U.S. Representatives Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, both seeking to replace Senator Feinstein in the 2024 election.
Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress and the longest-serving woman in the Senate, passed away on Thursday after battling a series of illnesses. Having announced in February that she would not seek re-election next year, her seat is expected to remain under Democratic control, given the party’s stronghold on statewide elections in California since 2006.
This nomination marks the second time Newsom has appointed a U.S. senator since 2021 when he selected then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Kamala Harris after her election as vice president. The 2024 election for Feinstein’s seat is likely to draw significant attention, with multiple Democratic candidates vying for the opportunity to represent the deep blue state in the Senate.