Gov. Gavin Newsom promised after appointing former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the Senate in 2021 that he would name a Black woman to the job if the seat long held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein vacated on his watch.
Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland said she clearly thinks she has a right to that seat, especially since the slot that Padilla took and later won herself was previously occupied by current Vice President Kamala. Harris, the only Black woman in the Senate at the time. he moved.
But the 90-year-old Feinstein served nearly three years past Padilla’s appointment date, continuing a severe and painful case of shingles, some alleged dementia and other ailments, while traveling mostly through wheelchair. On the other hand, the 77-year-old Lee and younger fellow Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine are involved in a tight and spirited race to replace Feinstein, who has insisted she will serve her full term until it ends in December 2024.
Fully aware of this, Newsom made it clear that if Feinstein couldn’t continue, she would indeed appoint a Black woman to the job, but not one to run for a full six-year term. However, he said he would name a temp.
So, no, Barbara Lee will not be able to list herself as a sitting senator on the ballots in California’s primary election next March.
This angered him. Lee didn’t admit to much emotion, but said he was “troubled by what the governor said” in announcing that he would appoint an interim senator if something happened to Feinstein.
Lee added that “The idea that a Black woman should only be appointed as a caregiver is insulting to countless Black women across the country who have led the Democratic Party to victory, election after election.” election. If the governor intends to keep his promise and appoint a Black woman to the Senate, the people of California deserve the best possible person for that job… We need a seat on that table.
In other words, he’s saying, “Educate me (if there’s an opening) or risk losing your party’s most reliable voting bloc.”
Newsom, to her credit, has so far refused to be bullied, sticking to her commitments to appoint a caretaker and a Black woman.
He essentially ignored Lee’s anger and his empty threat and stuck to the two promises he made today, while insisting that he hoped Feinstein would serve out her term.
One thing that is clear in all of this is that Newsom is reading the polls. They show Schiff, Porter and Lee all running ahead of many potential and declared Republican candidates, making a Democrat-on-Democrat runoff election next fall very likely.
Newsom, who hopes to remain a major figure in his party long after his second term in the statehouse ends in 2026, clearly does not want to alienate supporters of Schiff and Porter by giving the seat to to Lee during the run-up to the March election.
He knows that any incumbent, even one who has served only a month or two, gains credibility and an automatic advantage over electoral opponents.
And Lee, running a relatively distant third in every poll, needs any advantage he can get, a key — but unspoken — reason for his dismay at Newsom’s latest pledge.
But Newsom isn’t worried about that. He also did not say whether he agreed with Lee that he was “the best person for the job.”
However, he completely avoided commenting on the current candidates, saying only that “We have several names in mind.”
His comment also served his own political purpose, getting him into the Senate race without having to endorse or outright alienate anyone.
This preserved his position as the leader of the national party without committing himself to any particular appointee. So Newsom was able to please almost everyone except Lee and his most ardent supporters.
Plus, he was right. With only a few months before the primaries, and no desire to endorse any of the leading candidates, why would he promote one hopeful at the expense of others?
The answer is that he doesn’t need to, and he is right and skilled enough to avoid promising to do so.