Black California leaders are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a Black woman as the successor to Kamala Harris’ seat in the U.S. Senate.
At a press conference Friday, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus nominated U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee as candidates for the position.
Bass and Lee represent “two of the most powerful women” in California, said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D- San Diego and chair of the caucus.
“These women have represented California exceptionally well and have demonstrated their ability to take the hard vote and land on the right side of history,” Weber said. “Their foresight, judgment and dignity are desperately needed in the Senate.”
Newsom has a tough choice to make following the historic election of Harris as the first woman, and first woman of color, to win the vice presidency.
While groups like the Legislative Black Caucus and Democracy for America have urged Newsom to appoint a Black woman to the seat, many are pushing for a Latino appointment. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla are strong contenders for the position. On Thursday, the campaign arm of Hispanic Caucus endorsed Padilla.
A Latino senator would be a first for the state of California, but Harris’ departure means the U.S. Senate would lose its only Black woman. Female senators as a whole make up about a quarter of the legislative chamber.
Bass represents the state’s 37th Congressional district, which encompasses neighborhoods west and southwest of Downtown Los Angeles. Prior to being elected to Congress in 2010, she served three terms in the California Assembly, her last one as speaker.
Lee represents California’s 13th Congressional district, which encompasses the northwest portion of Alameda County, including Berkeley and Oakland. She has served since 1998 and is chair of several progressive caucuses, including the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, which she founded.
Appointing a Black woman would acknowledge the important role Black people played in the election of Harris and President-elect Joe Biden, Weber said.
“We are adamant that this position must go to an African-American woman as a result of our hard work in this last election, as well as our hard work in California and representing the Democratic Party,” she said.
Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who was recently re-elected to the Los Angeles City Council, said he doesn’t see this as a moment to accentuate a racial divide. Both Bass and Lee have records of building multiracial coalitions, he said.
“These are two public servants who have a history of being inclusive. Their politics don’t represent a narrow view of democracy, but an expansive view of democracy. They have located themselves, in any number of instances in solidarity with the Latinx community, the [Asian/Pacific Islander] community, the Native American community and more,” he said. “This is why we proudly and openly assert that they are worthy of being U.S. Senators.”
The Legislative Black Caucus has reached out to Newsom’s office in hopes of discussing the appointment, but have not connected with the governor, Weber said. The California Democratic Party Black Caucus will host a rally at the Capitol on Nov. 21 in a show of support for the appointment of Bass or Lee.
Taisha Brown, chair of the caucus, said if Black people are truly the backbone of the Democratic party, they need to prove it.
“We will no longer be ignored, pushed to the side, or let games be played behind our backs. We are asking Gavin Newsom, our governor, to appoint either Karen Bass or Barbara Lee,” Brown said. “There’s no other options.”
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