California’s political landscape has been thrown into chaos by the unexpected passing of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. As the state grieves, speculation is mounting about who will take her place in the Senate. After all, she had said she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024, setting up a heated race to decide who would replace her. But now that she’s gone, the situation has gotten even more complicated, and it’s putting California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, in a tough spot.
An Appointee in the Spotlight
The next step for Governor Newsom is to appoint a successor to fill the remainder of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s term. It’s a big job, and one that carries a lot of weight. Newsom has made it clear that he doesn’t want to do it.
He’s already appointed a Democrat, Alex Padilla, to fill Senator Kamala Harris’ seat in 2020, after she assumed the presidency.
Backlash and a Pledge
When Newsom chose Padilla to replace Harris, there was a lot of pushback because of the optics of having a Latina replace the only Black female in the Senate. Newsom responded by making a public promise that a Black woman would fill any future Senate seat, which was seen as a nod to Barbara Lee. But Newsom made that promise more than two years before Dianne Feinstein announced that she wouldn’t be running for reelection.
The Interim Appointment
In an interview recently, Newsom said he’s going to appoint someone “in the interim” to fill out the rest of the term of Dianne Feinstein’s seat. That means he won’t run for re-election. Newsom said the interim senator will still be Black, but the announcement was met with criticism.
Barbara Lee’s Critique
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), one of the leading contenders in the race to replace Dianne Feinstein, issued a statement blasting Newsom’s decision. “Appointing a Black woman to fill a vacant Senate seat on a one-monthly basis is an act of tokenism,” Lee said. “The Black woman’s perspective in the United States Senate is important and should not be reduced to a one-time appointment. I urge Governor Newsom to fulfill his promise and choose the most qualified candidate to fill this vacancy, not a token appointee.”
Lee’s criticism caused a firestorm and forced the resignations of two top Democrats who are close to both Lee and Newsom. The two leading Democrats in the polls and fundraising, Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Joe Porter, say it’s not fair to put the candidate in third before voters have a chance to make up their minds.
California’s Unique Primary System
California has a system where the two candidates with the most votes in the primary get to run in the general election. It’s a pretty liberal state, so it could end up with two Democrats running against each other in November.
A Cascade of Changes
The appointment of Governor Newsom could cause a domino effect in California, where Senate seats are rare to fill. Candidates are already running for the seats left by outgoing congressmen Schiff, Porter and Lee as they look to run for Senate. If Newsom appoints an elected Democrat to replace Dianne Feinstein, there could be even more openings to fill.
Shirley Weber, London Breed, Holly Mitchell, and Lateefah Simon are some of the names that have been mentioned as possible appointees. Newsom has the option to appoint someone who isn’t currently in office, but that could conflict with his promise to appoint someone who is Black.
Focusing on Feinstein’s Legacy: Dianne Feinstein
Despite the chaos, people close to the Governor and the candidates don’t want to talk about the political ramifications of Dianne Feinstein’s death. Right now, they’re focused on celebrating her life.
As California’s next governor navigates the tricky waters of politics, it’s no secret that the appointment of someone to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein will have a huge impact on the race for the Senate and could lead to a lot of big changes in the state. But as we wait for Newsom to make his decision, Senator Feinstein’s legacy is still very much on everyone’s minds.
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