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VIDEO | 03:25
LA Times Today: Patt Says: Senator X -- who’s California’s next memorable honorable?
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LA Times Today: Patt Says: Senator X -- who’s California’s next memorable honorable?

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

An empty seat in the U.S. Senate is like discovering a gold mine, like a winning lottery ticket. It doesn’t happen often, and everybody wants a shot at it.

California senator Kamala Harris’ move into the vice presidency meant that the race was on – who would the governor appoint to the rest of her term?

And years from now, would we remember?

Senators are little monarchs in the kingdom of Washington, but apart from the 16 senators who have become president – recently, Nixon and JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama – few stay in the memory.

And Californians? I’m a political reporter and it takes me a minute.

Cornelius Cole ring a bell? He served one term, lived to 102, and owned the land that became Hollywood.

George Hearst, father of the legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst -- his mining millions probably had something to do with him being appointed to an empty Senate seat …

Hiram Johnson, California’s great progressive reformer – more recognizable for some, maybe, as the man who beat general George Patton’s father for his Senate seat.

Future Republican governor Pete Wilson’s big moment in the senate was in 1985. He’d just had an emergency appendectomy, and he rolled into the chamber in a wheelchair, wearing a brown bathrobe, and he cast an important vote for President Reagan’s agenda.

Nothing could match Bakersfield’s Clair Engle. In 1964, suffering from a brain tumor, he was carried into the Senate on a stretcher to cast his vote to stop the filibuster against the monumental Civil Rights Act. By then he couldn’t even speak. So when the clerk called his name, Engle lifted his arm and pointed to his eye – he voted aye. He died not long after.

Until 1992, California had had no women senators and then suddenly led the nation with two at the same time – Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and then Kamala Harris.

California did have one Asian American senator – Republican S.I. Hayakawa, an academic and jazz expert who won the love of conservatives when he yanked the wires out of a loudspeaker at a student protest.

But California, colonized by Spain 250 years ago and becoming a state 170 years ago, never had a Latino senator.

The state’s first senator was a buccaneer explorer Army officer named John C. Fremont who in fact hurried along California’s war with Mexico, defied orders, challenged a superior officer to a duel, and was court-martialed for mutiny. He was convicted only of disobedience and misconduct, and the fact that his father-in-law was a senator helped him out of that.

In 1856, when Fremont ran as the Republican Party’s first-ever presidential candidate, he didn’t even carry California.