California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former Los Angeles City Council member and state senator, was chosen Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Newsom Tuesday also nominated Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to serve as the next California secretary of state, a move that would make her the first Black woman to ever hold the position.
Weber would replace Padilla. Weber’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Legislature.
The selection of Padilla as the new California senator makes him the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate.
“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 a statement. “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 the Southland’s 20th District. 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.”
The selection, while hailed by Hispanic community groups and elected officials, earned a rebuke from some who were pushing for Newsom to appoint a Black woman to the post.
“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 leave Black constituents with no African-American women in the Senate. The Padilla pick effectively diminishes Black political strength in California and Congress.”
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials predictably 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.”
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.”
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.”
As for the newly nominated secretary of state, the governor praised her accomplishments.
“Dr. Weber is a tireless advocate and change agent with unimpeachable integrity,” Newsom said. “The daughter of sharecroppers from Arkansas, Dr. Weber’s father didn’t get to vote until his 30s and her grandfather never got to vote because he died before the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. When her family moved to South Central Los Angeles, she saw as a child her parents rearrange furniture in their living room to serve as a local polling site for multiple elections.
“Now, she’ll be at the helm of California’s elections as the next secretary of state — defending and expanding the right to vote and serving as the first African-American to be California’s chief elections officer,” the governor said.
Weber, 72, has been in the Assembly since 2012 and chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus. She previously served on the San Diego Board of Education and was a longtime professor at San Diego State University.
“I am excited to be nominated for this historic appointment as the secretary of state of California,” Weber said. “I thank Governor Newsom for the confidence he’s placed in me and his belief that I will stand strong for California. Being the first African-American woman in this position will be a monumental responsibility, but I know that I am up for the challenge. Expanding voting rights has been one of the causes of my career and will continue to motivate me as I assume my new constitutional duties.”
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