California Gets Its First Latino US Senator

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Although nearly 40% of California’s 40 million residents are Latino or Hispanic, the state has never had a Latino or Hispanic U.S. senator. Until Tuesday, when Governor Gavin Newsom tapped Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ seat.

“His appointment will make history,” Newsom — who is expected to formally announce his appointment at a news conference — tweeted Tuesday morning. “But the Alex Padilla I know is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.”

Nevertheless, there will be many constituents who will be unhappy with the pick, as many groups were pushing for Newsom to appoint a woman of color. 

Padilla was long considered a front-runner for the position. The son of Mexican immigrants and a Los Angeles Democrat, Padilla steadily rose through local and state elected offices before becoming the secretary of state in 2014.

“I just want to say thank you and please know I will make you proud and make California proud by getting it done in the U.S. Senate,” Padilla told Newsom after the governor surprised the secretary of state with the news of his nomination over the phone Tuesday morning. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Padilla started his political career at a young age, running for and winning a competitive seat on the Los Angeles City Council at age 26. He was the first Latino and the youngest person ever to serve on the council. He was nominated council president after two years on the job. 

Next Padilla ran for a state Senate seat in 2006 and prevailed by a wide margin over Libertarian Pamela Brown. After winning reelection in 2010, Padilla went on to author several pieces of legislation, most notably championing the ban on plastic bags to reduce pollution and encourage local jurisdictions to attend to climate change concerns. 

He first ran for secretary of state in 2014, initially projected to have a fierce intraparty fight on his hands against fellow Democrat Leland Yee. But Lee was arrested and convicted on a raft of racketeering charges in 2015, effectively paving the way for Padilla’s rise to the position. 

As secretary of state, Padilla refused to cooperate with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, President Donald Trump’s formal investigation of voter fraud in 2017. The commission was eventually disbanded without finding evidence of widescale voter fraud of the type that Trump continues to say exists and was responsible for both of his defeats in the popular vote and his recent defeat in the Electoral College. 

Padilla pushed mail-in ballots during the 2020 General Election, which he said would not only ensure the public’s safety while voting but also lead to a more robust participation.

“The overwhelming success of the General Election proves the wisdom of California’s policies to increase access to the ballot and will certainly inform future initiatives to build an even more inclusive democracy,” Padilla said after he certified the vote Dec. 11. 

The Angeleno also restores balance to the state: Harris, her predecessor Barbara Boxer and California’s senior U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein are all Bay Area Democrats, leaving some in the south feeling like they were getting short shrift at the federal level. 

Newsom followed up his appointment of Padilla with the appointment of Padilla’s successor: Assembly member Shirley Weber, a Democrat representing parts of San Diego County.

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