On October 3, 1922, Rebecca Felton became the first woman to serve in the senate after filling a vacancy. Even though Felton’s appointment only lasted a day, it was a historic accomplishment. Ten years later in 1932, Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate. Since then, only 57 women have served in the Senate. Let those numbers sink in for a moment.
On the heels of Kamala Harris’ VP nomination, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has the opportunity to appoint another woman to fill her seat. As rumors swirl, many have noted that Newsom will likely pick California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Harris’s seat. But this would be a major setback in the work for women’s elected representation considering that there are only 25 women currently serving, and out of those women, only four are women of color.
On November 3, 1992, Carol Moseley Braun became the first Black woman to be sworn in as a senator. During Moseley Braun’s tenure representing Illinois, she was the only Black person in the Senate, and only the second Black person to be a member of the Senate during the 20th century. It wasn’t until 25 years later that we saw Kamala Harris make history becoming the second Black woman and California's first Black senator on January 3, 2017. In total, there have only been 10 Black Senators, and only two of those were Black women.
In California, there are two, well-qualified women who are capable of filling Harris’ senate seat and they also happen to be Black. Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee are more than ready to serve in the Senate, and their tenure in the House has proves just that.
Bass is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and has served five terms in California’s 37th district, which covers Los Angeles. Currently Bass serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where she is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. During her career she has been a strong advocate of child welfare and reforming the American foster care system. And prior to becoming a Congresswoman, Bass was active in her Los Angeles community in the 90’s. Through her organization, Community Coalition, she worked to curb the drug and violence epidemics that plagued the city. During Joe Biden’s run for president, Bass, who was the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the assembly, was also said to be on his short list for vice-president. Although we know Harris was the one to secure the spot, it’s worth noting that Bass was ready to rise to the occasion.
And like Bass, Barbara Lee is also ready to lead in the Senate. Lee is currently in her 12th term representing California's 13th Congressional District. Lee, who worked on Shirley Chisholm’s presidential run in 1972, has a proven level of commitment to bettering the lives of her constituents in California. She has always been a proponent of LBGTQ+ issues, worked to rid California of the “three strikes” law and authored and passed the first California Violence Against Women Act. And just this year, because of her pushback, Lee was credited with holding Trump in check over Iran.
A recent poll conducted this month finds that the public favors Bass over Padilla for Harris’ senate seat and they prefer an African American woman over a Latino.
Inherently, women bring a distinct perspective when it comes to politics. A woman appointee would wholeheartedly rally behind womens’ reproductive rights, especially at a time when these rights are being threatened. A woman senator not only brings her qualifications to the table, she brings her live experience that would be able to create and sponsor bills that have our best interests in mind.
Newsom hasn't given any insight on who he might choose as Harris’s replacement and with the growing pressure from various groups and donors, hopefully he realizes the responsibility he has to ensure that the legacies of Felton and Caraway remain intact. To appoint another man to the Senate would be a step back in women’s representation.
Glynda C. Carr is the president, CEO and co-founder of Higher Heights for America, which is at the center of the national movement to grow Black women’s political power from the voting booth to elected office. For more information, visit higherheightsforamericapac.org.
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