California Governor Gavin Newsom has appointed Laphonza Butler, the president of Emily’s List and a former labour leader, to replace the Senate seat vacated by Dianne Feinstein, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 90 in Washington, DC. The winner was revealed on Sunday.
Despite the fact that 44-year-old Ms. Butler has never been elected to public office, she has been a prominent figure in California politics for nearly 15 years as the head of the state’s largest labour union, a partner at a top-tier political consulting firm, and an adviser to 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and current Vice President Kamala Harris.
After appointing Alex Padilla to replace Ms. Harris in the Senate in early 2021, Governor Newsom promised that if another seat became open, he would appoint a Black woman. He followed that promise by appointing Ms. Butler.
Since she is already campaigning for the Senate seat in the upcoming election, the governor passed over Barbara Lee, a Democrat who has been a long-time leader in the state’s Black community. The governor explained that he did not want to influence the next election by choosing one of the three candidates for the seat (Representatives Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and himself) to occupy the seat temporarily.
On Tuesday in the Capitol, Vice President Harris will officially swear in Ms. Butler. Here are a few facts about the brand-new senator.
Ms. Butler was raised in Magnolia, Mississippi, in a middle-class family. She told The New York Times in 2021 that her mother worked as a security guard, petrol station cashier, home-care worker and teaching assistant after her father was diagnosed with a fatal disease and died when she was 16 years old.
Ms. Butler stated in an interview with Elle Magazine in 2021 that her family was not the sort “that talked about elections or politics at the dinner table, but we were the family that talked about what it meant to be service to others.”
Ms. Butler attended Jackson State University, a primarily Black institution in Mississippi, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and government in 2001. Ms. Butler told The Los Angeles Times that some of her professors at UCLA were veterans of the civil rights struggle, and that their example inspired her to become an activist and strengthen her dedication to social justice.
According to Governor Newsom’s office, Ms. Butler rose to prominence in California politics as a result of her labour activity. For more than a decade, she led the union representing 325,000 workers in nursing facilities and home-based care. She advocated for a $15 minimum wage and higher income tax rates for the state’s richest inhabitants during her term as president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015.
During her tenure in the union, Ms. Butler was able to network with top officials in California. She served on the Board of Regents at the University of California from 2018 to 2021 after being appointed there by Governor Jerry Brown.
She eventually left the union in 2019 to join Bearstar Strategies, formerly SCRB Strategies, a prominent California political consulting firm. Both Governor Newsom and Vice President Harris have enlisted the firm’s counsel. Mr. Schiff’s senate campaign for 2024 also has the support of this business.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2019 that Uber had hired Ms. Butler, then of SCRB Strategies, to represent the company in its fight against labour unions over legislation governing driver pay, working conditions, and whether or not they should be considered employees or independent contractors.
UC Irvine law professor Veena Dubal said that many union members in California “were really angry and really felt like this was treachery” when they learned that Ms. Butler had consulted for Uber.
Ms. Butler worked for the online home-sharing firm Airbnb for approximately a year, beginning in September 2020 when she was designated director for public policy and campaigns.
Ms. Butler made history in 2021 when she became the first Black woman to lead Emily’s List, a political action committee that helps elect women to office and supports their right to choose. For a long time now, Democratic women have considered nothing more important than receiving an endorsement from Emily’s List.
Mr. Schiff had $30 million, Ms. Porter had $10.4 million, and Ms. Lee had $1.4 million, according to the most current campaign contribution filings for the contest.
According to Mr. Newsom’s office, Ms. Butler, who became president of Emily’s List in 2021, will re-register to vote in California, where she still owns a property, because she just relocated to the Washington, D.C. region. Ms. Butler and her wife, Neneki Lee, are parents to Nylah, who is 8 years old.
Despite having earlier pushed Mr. Newsom to choose Ms. Lee, the Congressional Black Caucus published a statement on Monday praising Ms. Butler for being the first gay Black woman in the Senate.