Alex Padilla Will Now Be California’s First Latino Senator

Photo: JC Olivera/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California secretary of state Alex Padilla would be appointed to fill the senate seat held by Kamala Harris, ending the maneuvering that began well before it was clear that the vice-president-elect would indeed have a new job come January. Padilla, 47, will become the first Latino senator from California, a state that is almost 40 percent Latino.

Born in Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Padilla was first elected to public office in 1999, when he joined the Los Angeles City Council at 26, then later served as a state senator. Padilla has been a longtime ally of Governor Newsom, and now becomes the second top official set to leave the Newsom administration in the aftermath of Biden’s victory. The governor has to appoint replacements for Padilla as well as California attorney general Xavier Becerra, who Biden has nominated to run the Department of Health of Human Services (if Becerra is confirmed by the Senate).

The inside game over the appointment was quite rigorous, and exemplary of the demographics of the Democratic party in the nation’s most populous state. While the Congressional Hispanic Caucus backed Padilla, many progressives lobbied Newsom to appoint Rep. Barbara Lee or Rep. Karen Bass, which would ensure that there would still be a Black woman in the ranks of the Senate once Harris is inaugurated as vice-president.

As a state legislator, Padilla supporter universal health care and a significant expansion of green energy in a state that wants to be carbon-free by 2045. As secretary of state, he helped expand California’s voter rolls by more than four million people. Padilla will also become the second-youngest Democrat in the Senate — a crucial point considering the overall age of the party, Padilla’s pending reelection run in 2022, and the recent concerns regarding a New Yorker report detailing the possible cognitive decline of the senior senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, who is 87 and will serve until 2024.

“From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you,” the Padilla announced on Tuesday. “We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

Alex Padilla Will Now Be California’s First Latino Senator