Laphonza Butler, who was appointed to the Senate seat left vacant by Dianne Feinstein’s passing less than three weeks ago, has declared that she will not run for the office next year. Her decision paves the way for an open race in California, featuring three Democratic congressional members and a former Major League Baseball star.
In an interview with The New York Times, Senator Butler expressed her commitment to be a vocal and proud advocate for California during her remaining term. However, she has come to the realization that running for the Senate may not be the best way for her to use her voice effectively.
Ms. Butler, a prominent figure in California’s labor movement and a rising star in the state’s Democratic Party, was the president of the political action committee Emily’s List when Governor Gavin Newsom appointed her earlier this month. This swift decision came shortly after Ms. Feinstein’s passing and following Governor Newsom’s promise to appoint a Black woman to fill the Senate seat.
At 44 years old, Senator Butler is California’s second Black woman to serve in the Senate, following Vice President Kamala Harris. She is also the first openly LGBTQ senator from the state.
Senator Butler explained that, after taking office, she gave more thought to her long-term career prospects and had in-depth discussions with her wife and 9-year-old daughter. While her decision was not influenced by any single event or concern, she has not ruled out the possibility of running for elective office in the future. Despite the relatively short time frame to build a campaign before the primary elections in March, she was viewed as a formidable candidate by many in California’s Democratic circles.
Californians will still have a variety of candidates to choose from in the upcoming Senate race. Three prominent Democratic members of Congress—Representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee—had been actively campaigning for months before Senator Feinstein’s passing.
Mr. Schiff, who has the support of Nancy Pelosi, the former House Speaker, has raised over $30 million in campaign funds, and he and Ms. Porter consistently lead in the polls.
Senator Butler has not yet decided whether to endorse any candidate in next year’s Senate race.
Prior to her appointment, Ms. Butler spent nearly two decades with the Service Employees International Union, where she led a California branch representing around 325,000 home-care workers. She played a key role in advocating for a $15 minimum wage in the state. Her experience includes leading Emily’s List, a prominent organization supporting Democratic women who advocate for abortion rights.
She also worked at a political consulting firm where she advised Vice President Harris, Governor Newsom, and the ride-share company Uber. She later led political advocacy at Airbnb.
Senator Butler’s appointment posed a political challenge for Governor Newsom. Black members of Congress had campaigned for him to appoint Representative Lee, a longtime congresswoman from the Bay Area. They were disappointed when Governor Newsom indicated in September that if Senator Feinstein were to leave office early, he would appoint a Black woman on an interim basis. However, following Senator Feinstein’s death, Governor Newsom reversed course and stated that Senator Butler could run for the seat in 2024 if she chose to.
On Thursday, Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, an organization dedicated to electing women of color, encouraged Senator Butler to endorse Representative Lee. Senator Butler explained that she was deeply moved by the positive reception following her appointment but that, in the following days—during which she was in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19—she realized that there are numerous ways to serve and make a difference.