California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the Senate seat that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris held.
Padilla, who was raised by Mexican-born immigrants and grew up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, is set to be the first Latino senator in a state where Latinos make up about 40 percent of the population.
In a statement on Tuesday, Padilla nodded to surging cases of COVID-19 nationwide as he expressed how “honored and humbled” he is by Newsom’s decision to allow him to represent California in the Senate.
“From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you,” Padilla said. “We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”
Newsom praised Padilla, who is known as an ally of the governor, in a statement on Tuesday for “his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit.”
“California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said. “He will be a Senator for all Californians.”
Newsom pointed to Padilla’s experience in holding public office since 1999. Padilla first served in the Los Angeles City Council when he was elected at age 26. Padilla’s career in politics was followed by two terms in the state Senate as well as two terms as secretary of state.
In a video shared by Newsom on Tuesday morning, Padilla had an emotional reaction when the California governor asked him to be the state’s next senator the day before. Padilla paid tribute to his Mexican-born parents as he recounted the hardships they faced to make ends meet for their family.
His appointment will make history. But the @AlexPadilla4CA I know is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.
I can think of no one better to represent the state of California as our next United States Senator. pic.twitter.com/xiAzpTS42Y
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 22, 2020
Padilla’s appointment comes after months of intense lobbying by powerful constituencies within California’s Democratic Party. Newsom’s selection of Padilla to serve the two years left in Harris’ Senate term does not require confirmation by the California Legislature. Padilla’s Senate seat will be up for grabs in the 2022 election.
When President-elect Joe Biden and the Vice President-elect’s victory were projected last month, California Democrats urged Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace Harris, who is only the second Black woman elected to the Senate.
Padilla isn’t the only top Californian who is headed to Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, Biden tapped Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, to head up Health and Human Services as the country reels from the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 320,000 Americans thus far.