Trailblazing History: Laphonza Butler Appointed to Fill Feinstein’s Senate Seat

California governor names Laphonza Butler, former Kamala Harris adviser

In a significant announcement, California Governor Gavin Newsom has chosen Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign, to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat left by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Governor Newsom had previously pledged to appoint a Black woman if the Senate seat became vacant, and with this decision, he has fulfilled that promise. Laphonza Butler’s appointment makes her the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the chamber.

In his statement, Governor Newsom highlighted the importance of continuing Senator Feinstein’s legacy in fighting for issues such as reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence. He expressed confidence that Laphonza Butler would carry on this legacy and break new barriers while representing all Californians in Washington D.C.

Laphonza Butler currently leads Emily’s List, a prominent political organization that supports Democratic women candidates who advocate for abortion rights. Her background also includes a role as a former labor leader with SEIU 2015, a powerful force in California politics.

This appointment sets the stage for a potentially complex political landscape in the 2024 contest to succeed Senator Feinstein. While Governor Newsom did not ask Butler to commit to staying out of the race, her entry into the contest could create competition for the support of California’s influential Black voters and possibly affect the candidacy of Rep. Barbara Lee, who is already running for the seat.

Notably, Emily’s List is known for its fundraising capabilities, a crucial factor in any statewide California race. Governor Newsom’s statement mentioned that Butler would step down from her role at the organization.

This decision carries implications for Governor Newsom’s political future, as candidates favored by Black voters have secured the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in every cycle since 1992. Groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and Black politicians had advocated for the appointment of Rep. Barbara Lee, citing her qualifications for the position.

Senator Feinstein, who served as the oldest member of Congress and the longest-serving woman in the Senate, passed away at the age of 90 last Thursday. Laphonza Butler, who currently resides in Maryland but owns a home in California, is expected to re-register to vote in California before her swearing-in, which could happen as early as the next Senate session.

With the appointment of Laphonza Butler, Democrats regain control of the Senate 51-49, providing the Democratic caucus with more flexibility on close votes, including nominations opposed by Republicans.

This Senate seat, which is expected to remain in Democratic hands, will be a focal point in the 2024 election, with several prominent Democrats, including Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, vying for the position. Governor Newsom’s decision not to appoint any of these candidates was aimed at preventing any potential unfair advantage in the race.

Laphonza Butler, despite not having held elected office, brings a wealth of experience in California politics and has served as a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. Her appointment reflects the continued commitment to diversity and representation in California’s political leadership.

As California faces critical challenges and policy decisions, Laphonza Butler’s appointment to the U.S. Senate will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the state and the nation.