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Column: Newsom says he hasn’t decided on Harris’ successor in Senate. Here are some possibilities

California Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom clap on stage
Sen. Kamala Harris, left, endorses then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for the California governor’s race in February 2018. Now governor, Newsom may soon have the chance to pick Harris’ successor should she be elected vice president.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Let’s assume the Biden-Harris ticket wins and hands Gov. Gavin Newsom a nifty holiday gift. He’ll get to choose Kamala Harris’ successor in the U.S. Senate.

Newsom could even turn it into a twin-pack bonus. If the governor selects a statewide elected official or a county supervisor, he’ll also get to name that officeholder’s replacement.

I’m assuming Joe Biden wins because all the signs point that way.

The Democratic candidate has led steadily in the polls. President Trump’s job approval ratings are horrible. And Democratic voters are turning out in record numbers to boot the incumbent.

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The economy has been crummy. It picked up recently, but there are still nearly 13 million people unemployed. That’s often fatal for a president seeking reelection.

The nation is suffering a cataclysmic pandemic — more than 230,000 have died of COVID-19. Trump has been worse than no help. He has belittled prevention and been in denial.

Biden is likable. Trump is a jerk.

So, Harris is a cinch to be vice president on Jan. 20. Or I’ll eat crow for Thanksgiving.

Who will Newsom choose to replace California’s first Black senator?

Newsom probably doesn’t even know. But he’s getting lots of unsolicited advice.

“About every other person I run into seems to have a strong opinion,” the governor told reporters last week after voting early. “I haven’t even processed that decision myself because we’ll have to make that determination after election day.”

One thing we do know about Newsom: He likes to make history by doing “firsts.”

If Joe Biden chooses a short-listed Californian as his running mate — Sen. Kamala Harris or Rep. Karen Bass — the decision will have a significant impact on politics in the state.

It goes back to when he was San Francisco mayor and led the way to legalizing same-sex marriage by allowing LGBTQ couples to marry when it violated state law.

Newsom was the first California governor to declare a moratorium on the death penalty for the duration of his tenure. Recently, he appointed the first openly gay justice of the California Supreme Court, Martin Jenkins, a Black man. And he selected the first female head of the California Highway Patrol, Amanda Ray, who is Black.

So, what would be a first for a new U.S. senator from California?

One of two things: a person who is Latino or LGBTQ.

It’s certainly about time California sent a Latino person to represent the state in the Senate. Latinos are now California’s largest ethnic group.

Most political watchers seem to believe that the front-runner is Secretary of State Alex Padilla, 47, a former state senator from the San Fernando Valley and president of the Los Angeles City Council. Padilla has been a good state elections overseer, but the main reason he’s considered the leading Senate prospect is his closeness to Newsom.

Padilla was an early supporter of Newsom’s first brief campaign for governor against Jerry Brown in 2009. He was Newsom’s campaign chairman and often traveled with him hustling for votes.

Another leading possibility has extensive congressional experience and would hit the Senate floor running. He’s state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, 62, who served 24 years in the U.S. House, representing central and east L.A. He was chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Democratic Caucus.

Becerra was appointed by Gov. Brown to replace Harris as attorney general and has been a prolific filer of lawsuits against Trump administration policies. He is well qualified to be a U.S. senator.

But, although friendly with the governor, Becerra is not a close buddy.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, 42, gets lots of mention and would check off both “first” boxes: He is Latino and gay.

It is all here. How to vote. Where to vote. Endorsements. What issues are on the ballot in California and Los Angeles County.

Garcia also was an early supporter of Newsom’s gubernatorial aspirations. But his lack of top-tier political experience places him in the second tier of Senate prospects.

There’s pressure on Newsom to replace Harris with another woman. But women have held both California Senate seats for the last 28 years. In fact, California was the first state to have two female senators at once. So, choosing another woman may not be as high a priority as it once was.

But if Newsom wanted to pick a Latina senator, there’s L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, 63, a former Labor secretary in the Obama administration, House member and state legislator.

A solid choice would be Rep. Karen Bass, 67, of Los Angeles, who was on Biden’s shortlist for veep. She’s chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and former speaker of the California Assembly — the first Black woman in the nation’s history to lead a state legislative house.

Everyone likes Bass. She’s a liberal who can deal with Republicans. But she’s not close to Newsom. And she wouldn’t be a first.

Another option would be state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, 58, of San Diego, a former Assembly speaker who would be the first lesbian U.S. senator from California. She is the first woman to head the state Senate.

But Atkins has never run for statewide office, let alone a coveted post like U.S. senator.

Neither has Rep. Adam B. Schiff, 60, of Burbank, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who helped lead the impeaching of Trump. He’s great Senate material but isn’t close to Newsom and is a white man.

One priority for Newsom should be to pick a winner — someone who can run for a six-year term in 2022 and beat back Democratic challengers.

“You want that person to be competitive. It’s kind of a ding on the governor if he appoints someone who gets beat in the next election,” says veteran Democratic consultant Garry South.

“Democrats understand this brass ring doesn’t come around too often. It’s too rare an opportunity for ambitious Democrats to hold up.”

Three winners on Tuesday will be Biden, Harris — and Newsom.


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