California gets Latino US senator, some Black leaders angry

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FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, as the state's next U.S. senator to fill the seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

LOS ANGELES – California is getting its first Latino U.S. senator. For Gov. Gavin Newsom, it’s a political gamble.

The Democratic governor Tuesday named Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. When Padilla goes to Washington, the former state legislator will become California’s first Latino senator since the state’s founding 170 years ago.

In picking a personal friend and fellow Democrat, Newsom had his eye on history and pragmatism — he turned to someone he could trust with a year of uncertainty looming, including a possible recall election targeting the governor while the pandemic rages unabated.

Newsom also rejected pleas from a host of prominent Black leaders to replace Harris, the Senate’s only Black woman, with another African American woman, such as U.S. Reps. Karen Bass or Barbara Lee.

About six hours after the Padilla announcement, Newsom’s office said he would nominate Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who is Black, to be the next secretary of state. If confirmed, she would become the first Black woman to hold the office, giving Newsom two history-making picks in one day.

Given the timing, however, it appeared the choice was intended at least partly to quell criticism for not choosing a Black woman to replace Harris.

“Many people believe the governor will pay a political price,” Kerman Maddox, a Democratic consultant and fundraiser who is Black, said in an email. “It’s a terribly insensitive decision” with the nation in the midst of a reckoning over racial injustice.

“If Governor Newsom thinks our disappointment with the Kamala Harris replacement will be tempered by appointing an African American woman to be California secretary of state, he clearly does not know this constituency,” Maddox added. “When I heard the news about the secretary of state appointment, my anger meter went from disappointment to being downright angry.”