The presidential race in California was over long before Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running-mate. And while there are some important House races and the usual batch of significant ballot initiatives in the Golden State, there are no statewide offices on the November 2020 ballot.
So in the state’s very dominant Democratic Party, a lot of the buzz is in anticipatory speculation about what will happen to Harris’s Senate seat if she ascends to the vice-presidency next January.
Under California law, Governor Gavin Newsom has the full power to appoint someone to Harris’s seat until her term expires in 2023. It’s not a position that has changed hands a lot recently: Harris’s Senate colleague Dianne Feinstein has been in her seat since 1992, and the veep nominee’s predecessor, Barbara Boxer, held her seat from 1992 as well until she retired in 2016. Given the California GOP’s supine position and the intense hostility of the state’s voters to POTUS’s policies, Newsom could well be appointing a senator who will instantly occupy a safe seat and bid for national attention.
The initial handicapping on the decision Newsom might make if Harris takes flight down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House is highly influenced by the fact that the increasingly Latino-dominated state has never had a Latino senator. It also matters that Feinstein and Harris are both from San Francisco, which means that Southern California has been shirked. So the opening-bid front-runners are two Latino statewide elected officials from SoCal, as Politico reports:
Secretary of State Alex Padilla: A longtime friend and early endorser of Newsom, widely liked in his party, Padilla, 47, may be a sure bet — and the ultimate history-making choice. California’s Secretary of State has been a high-profile Democratic voice, and a regular on cable TV, on key issues including vote-by-mail and the importance of the U.S. Census.
“He checks all the boxes,’’ said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney, author of “Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald Trump.” “He has won statewide choice, he’s relatively young. He’s from Southern California. And we’ve never had a Latino U.S. senator.”
Attorney General Xavier Becerra: Becerra, 62, has been the frontline of the “State of Resistance’’ opposition to Trump’s administration, having filed more than five dozen lawsuits to challenge the president on everything from sanctuary cities to water rights. “DC savvy, son of Mexican immigrants … ready on Day One, husband of a doctor — and one of House leaders on the Affordable Care Act,” and Los Angeles-based.
Both these options would have the bonus effect of giving Newsom an appointment to replace them in important statewide offices.
But there would be some pushback from California Democrats who don’t want to see a backsliding from Harris’s accomplishment as the state’s first Black and Asian-American senator, not to mention the third woman to achieve that distinction. So there’s pressure on behalf of a variety of woman, particularly from SoCal. Los Angeles congresswoman Karen Bass, a former California Assembly speaker and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and reportedly a Biden veep finalist, is an obvious choice if Newsom wants to ignore the pressure for a Latino senator.
Other African-American women who will get attention include veteran East Bay congresswoman Barbara Lee and the younger “rising star” Los Angeles legislator Holly Mitchell. If the circle of consideration expands beyond Latinos, African-Americans, and women, congressmen Ro Khanna (a Silicon Valley pol who was a key 2020 Bernie Sanders supporter and surrogate) and Adam Schiff could be considered. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti claims both Latino and Jewish identity, though he’s not exactly a Latino-voter favorite. There’s also an argument that Newsom should appoint a temporary placeholder — such as Latino activist Delores Huerte or even former San Francisco legislator and mayor (who at one point dated Kamala Harris) Willie Brown.
It’s all obviously hypothetical at this point, since Kamala Harris isn’t going anywhere until January, and may not go anywhere then. But California Democrats will keep their eyes on this particular prize until and unless it disappears.