Whom will Newsom pick to replace Dianne Feinstein? Here are some possibilities
Though California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged in 2021 to appoint a Black woman to the U.S. Senate if Sen. Dianne Feinstein retired, he has kept his deliberations private and shrugged off rumors of who could be his top choice. Now, with the death of Feinstein at 90, the question of whom Newsom might appoint to replace the senator has become more urgent.
The U.S. Senate has not included a Black woman since Kamala Harris resigned to become vice president, and Newsom said earlier this month that he still intends to appoint a Black woman. But he said it won’t be anyone already running for Senate in next year’s election, ruling out Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) — and angering her and her supporters.
Some of them called on Newsom on Friday to change his stance and tap Lee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein survived an assassination attempt and a mayoral recall to become the most popular politician in California for years running.
“At a time when 20 million Californians are one paycheck away from falling into poverty, and our democracy and freedoms are under threat, we need a fighter who can immediately fill Sen. Feinstein’s shoes,” said a statement from Aimee Allison, president of She the People, a group that advocates for women of color in politics.
“Barbara Lee is ready to lead in the Senate on Day 1.”
Newsom previously said he doesn’t want to interfere in the 2024 Senate race underway and will pick someone to serve as a caretaker for the period until voters choose a new senator who would take office at the start of 2025.
Whoever it is, “Newsom is going to be very keenly interested in continuing Feinstein’s legacy,” said Elizabeth Ashford, a Democratic political consultant and vice president of California Women Lead, a nonpartisan organization Feinstein helped found in 1974.
Here are some people who could be picked.
Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink founder
Newsom could avoid potential conflicts with other elected Democrats by appointing someone like Angela Glover Blackwell, who has deep experience in law and policy but does not hold elected office.
A leader in the movement for racial equity, Blackwell has had a long career working on civil rights as an attorney, policy advocate, educator and writer. She is the founder of the PolicyLink racial justice organization, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and author of scholarly articles and co-author of the book “Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future.”
“As a Black girl growing up in a segregated St. Louis, Mo., in the 1950s and early ’60s, I adopted the prevailing story about our country,” she wrote in an article earlier this year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
“It was the tale of a nation carved by ruggedness, exploration, and aspiration. A nation full of potential that could be tapped through individual grit and courageous efforts pushing society toward equality and justice.”
In 2014, then-President Obama appointed Blackwell to his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. In 2020, Newsom appointed her to his Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, created to help the state rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic with what Blackwell described at the time as “an equitable response in the absence of badly needed federal support.”
Lateefah Simon, Bay Area Rapid Transit board member
Lateefah Simon, currently on the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors, is running for the U.S. House seat that Lee now holds representing Oakland and the East Bay.
Early in her career, Simon worked for then-San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, leading an anti-recidivisim program for youths. In 2020, as the nation grappled with fallout from the police killing of George Floyd, Newsom tapped Simon to advise him on police reform. She currently serves on the California State University board of trustees.
Simon is well known in the Bay Area for decades of community organizing and civil and human rights advocacy, and could be a safe choice for Newsom because she’s already running for Congress.
Simon’s campaign declined to provide a statement and said she was instead focused on her current race.
If Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday he would nominate a Black woman to fill the seat.
London Breed, San Francisco mayor
San Francisco Mayor London Breed is a trickier political choice. She’s running in a challenging reelection next year amid a backdrop of doom and gloom in San Francisco, where voter dissatisfaction over homelessness and crime has taken center stage in the race.
But she’s also a prominent California politician from the same city as Feinstein, which could make her selection symbolic, too.
During a Friday news conference, Breed was asked if she had spoken to Newsom about whom he might tap as Feinstein’s replacement, and whether she would accept the position if he offered it.
She said that was a “conversation we can save for another day.”
“That’s the governor’s responsibility, and I am sure he is already working on it and doing what he needs to do,” Breed said. “But so many of us, including Gov. Newsom, have great relationships with Feinstein and her family, and we want to take a moment to just really make this about her, her legacy and everything she’s done before we move to that chapter.”
Shirley Weber, California secretary of state
Newsom turned to Shirley Weber a few years ago when he had a big position to fill. The governor tapped the then-Assembly member in 2021 to fill a vacancy as the state’s chief elections officer after he appointed Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate. Weber won her election by more than 20 points in 2022 to retain the job.
Weber can serve in her current position, if reelected, until 2030, so accepting a temporary appointment would bring her time as secretary of state to an early end — and create another vacancy for Newsom to fill.
Weber declined to comment on the possibility of being appointed.
Laphonza Butler, EMILY’s List president
Laphonza Butler is the president of EMILY’s List, a national political organization that focuses on electing Democratic women to office who support abortion access.
Butler has an accomplished resume in Democratic politics and campaign strategy, with deep roots in California. She served as senior advisor to Vice President Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign and as president of one of California’s most influential and powerful labor unions, SEIU Local 2015, which represents long-term care workers.
If she accepted an appointment, Butler would also make history as the first out person of color in the Senate. Newsom has prioritized the appointment of LGBTQ+ people to positions of power, including state Supreme Court Associate Justices Martin Jenkins and Kelli Evans.
Her appointment would require a move back to California, as Butler currently lives in Maryland, according to her online biography. The U.S. Constitution requires that people live in the state they seek to represent when they’re elected to the Senate. But for people who are appointed, the law is that they must reside in the state upon assuming office, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the UCLA School of Law.
“So in theory someone could change their residency upon appointment,” he told The Times.
Malia Cohen, California state controller
Malia Cohen was elected as California’s accountant in 2022, and her political history runs through the same halls of power that catapulted Feinstein to national prominence.
A San Francisco native, Cohen previously served on the California State Board of Equalization and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
However, she may be an unlikely pick, and said Newsom has not reached out to her about the post.
“Everyone is being respectful and quiet, allowing the family time to rest and reconcile this loss,” Cohen said in an interview Friday in discussing Feinstein’s death.
Leondra Kruger, California Supreme Court justice
She has previous experience in the U.S. Department of Justice and has argued several cases before the nation’s highest court on behalf of the federal government.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Kruger to the state Supreme Court in 2014. She went to high school in Pasadena and, during law school, was the first Black woman to serve as editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal.
Maxine Waters, congresswoman
Rep. Maxine Waters is one of California’s longest-serving officials, having been elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 to represent South Los Angeles and, before that, to the state Legislature where she held office for more than a decade.
The top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, Waters joined those calling on Newsom to appoint Lee.
“I’m a big supporter of Barbara Lee … who has identified herself as a very highly competent legislator, leader and organizer who has advanced progressive politics throughout her career. You can’t find a better committed legislator than Barbara Lee,” she said.
“I think there is no better person than Barbara Lee for Newsom to live up to his commitment to appoint a Black woman.”
Karen Bass, Los Angeles mayor
As an experienced lawmaker and political leader, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass would be a logical appointment. But she just won an expensive and difficult election last year to lead the nation’s second-largest city and has indicated she’s not interested in leaving to become a short-term senator.
Asked by Politico earlier this year if Bass would consider the post, her spokesperson Zach Seidl said, “Absolutely not.”
The mayor declined to answer questions about the appointment Friday, saying, “Today is a day to remember and acknowledge [Feinstein’s] history, and I think that is what needs to be our complete focus.”
Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County supervisor
One of California’s most high-profile female leaders, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said she is focused on winning reelection next year.
“While I am absolutely flattered that I’ve seen my name mentioned among many other amazing Black woman leaders across the state, I am not [interested],” Mitchell told The Times in an interview Friday.
“L.A. County, the largest county in the country — 10-plus million people with great needs — is a job that I’m really enjoying now. ... There’s lots of work that we started that I’m deeply proud of, and lots more work to do.”
Despite media attention on the possibility of Newsom tapping Winfrey for the job, it’s an unlikely choice.
Winfrey’s spokeswoman earlier this year said the media mogul “is not considering the seat should it become vacant,” despite her national influence as an author, former talk show host and friend to many of America’s most famous celebrities.
Times staff writers Kevin Rector, Taryn Luna, Julia Wick and Erin B. Logan contributed to this article.
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