California Gov. Newsom Picks Former Kamala Harris Adviser Laphonza Butler To Replace Dianne Feinstein

The governor makes good on his promise to appoint a Black woman to the vacant seat.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom fulfilled his promise to appoint a Black woman to replace Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died Friday (Sept. 29), if her seat became vacant.

Newsom announced Sunday night (Oct. 1) that he selected Laphonza Butler, who was once adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, as Feinstein’s replacement.

“Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people. She will make history -- becoming the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate,” Newsom stated, adding that Butler “has always stood up for what is right and has led with her heart and her values.”

Butler served as a political strategist to Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign, The Washington Post reports. She also helped Harris to secure labor union support when the vice president ran for California attorney general in 2010.

Currently, Butler is president of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-abortion-rights Democrats to office. Butler has roots in the labor movement. She advocated for California’s minimum wage increase to $15 an hour and served as president of SEIU Local 2015, the state’s biggest union that represents home-care workers. Her appointment makes her the first Black LGBTQ U.S. Senator.

Feinstein, who suffered from multiple ailments, rejected calls from Democrats who urged her to resign. Instead, the former San Francisco mayor said she would stay in office until the end of her term in 2024. But her death forced Newsom, who vowed in 2021 to select a Black woman, to appoint a replacement right away.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein Dies At 90, Will Gov. Newsom Replace Her With A Black Woman As He Pledged?

Newsom said that he would not appoint a candidate running in the competitive Democratic senatorial primary race, which included Rep. Barbara Lee, the only Black woman candidate in the race.

"It would be completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off. The primary is just a matter of months away. I don't want to tip the balance of that." Newsom told NBC’s Meet the Press then-host Chuck Todd in September.

Lee blasted Newsom, saying, "The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election," adding that there are no Black women currently serving in the Senate.

Lee is in a challenging senatorial race against high-profile Democratic rivals Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter. A poll released Sept. 7 placed Schiff in the lead with 20 percent of the likely vote, followed closely by Porter with 17 percent and Lee with a distant 7 percent.

Lee congratulated Butler, saying that she’s “singularly focused” on winning the senate election.

“I wish @LaphonzaB well and look forward to working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State,” Lee stated. “I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate. CA deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities. That’s exactly what I’m running to do.”

Butler, a graduate of Mississippi HBCU Jackson State University, and her wife, Neneki, have a daughter named Nylah.

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