(CN) — California’s new election chief Shirley Weber had a story to tell Wednesday as she was introduced to the state’s 40 million residents, save the San Diego County constituents she represents in the Assembly: Her grandfather never voted because he lived in Arkansas during Jim Crow, before the Voting Rights Act.
Her father fled Hope, Arkansas, because he was imminently in peril of being lynched. But once safely ensconced in California in the 1950s, Weber said one of the first things he did was vote because he finally had the opportunity to do so.
“His not being able to go to school, not being able to vote, he instilled its importance in his eight children,” Weber, whom Governor Gavin Newsom appointed as secretary of state on Tuesday, said.
Weber replaces current Secretary of State Alex Padilla and will now be in charge of elections in the nation’s most populous state. Newsom tapped Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
At Wednesday’s roundtable, Padilla had his own iteration of the American Dream to share.
He talked about how his parents, both born in Mexico, immigrated separately and met in Los Angeles, where they fell in love, married and had three children who all went on to be public servants.
“My father spent 40 years as a short-order cook,” Padilla recalled. “For those same 40 years, my mother used to clean houses. I saw their struggle, sacrifice and hard work growing up.”
Padilla said it’s those roots that will allow him to fight for working families in California as a member of the U.S. Senate.
The newly minted senator said he spoke with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday but has not had any indication of which committees he may be assigned to once he is sworn in next month.
He did say that he will fight for equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccines at the outset.
Newsom, who has endured political turmoil as of late, appeared relaxed and praised the two public officials as examples of people who are in public service to accomplish things rather than the through the lure of prestige.
“They’re here to do something, not be something,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s appointment of Padilla was not without controversy, as many in California wanted a black woman to replace Harris and so honor the groundbreaking nature of her U.S. Senate victory in 2016 when she became just the second Black woman — and first South Asian American — to serve in the Senate.
“This is a real blow to the African American community, to African American women, to women in general,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday.
Breed, the first black woman to become mayor of San Francisco, later backtracked and praised Padilla’s credentials and predicted he would be a successful representative for California.
Kamala Harris also gave the nomination her seal of approval Tuesday via social media and then again on Wednesday after being asked about it by a reporter.
“The governor made his decision,” Harris said Wednesday. “I’ve known Alex Padilla, I’ve worked with him in the past. He is an outstanding public servant. There were many names on that list who are really exceptional.”
Harris noted Padilla will be the first Latino from California to serve in the U.S. Senate. The population of California is roughly 40% Latino.
Padilla also makes sense from a geographical perspective. Padilla is from Los Angeles and will be the first U.S. Senator from the largest city in the state in some time. Senior U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Harris and her predecessor, Barbara Boxer, were all Bay Area Democrats.
Padilla and Weber both told reporters they intend to run for full terms in their respective new posts in 2022.
“We will run an aggressive campaign,” Weber said.
Newsom still has a major appointment to make, with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra taking a position in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration as the head of Health and Human Services.
The governor will appoint Becerra’s replacement some time before Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.