By David M. Greenwald
Progressives were not thrilled with the selection of Secretary of State Alex Padilla as the Senate replacement for Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. As I wrote initially, I would have preferred either Barbara Lee or Karen Bass on policy issues, and am not thrilled with Padilla’s record on criminal justice reform.
But really, if you analyze the potential candidates for Governor Newsom to choose from, Alex Padilla was probably among the very top picks no matter what you are looking for. In fact, while I fully acknowledge the governor was under pressure to select a Latino to the position, the reality is that even if he weren’t Latino, Padilla seems like the top choice.
Once I did a deeper dive into possible picks, it became pretty clear that the California Democratic Party is increasingly not a party of white men. The bench is fairly deep for potential picks, but most of those picks are people of color. I will go further here and argue that it may be quite some time before there is another white man elected to governor, unless a Republican wins one of these times.
Let’s start by looking at the list of constitutional officers.
The first thing that jumps out—it’s a very diverse group of people. You end up with three Latinos, two Asians, one Black, and Kounalakis who is Greek. On that list, with Becerra being appointed by President-Elect Biden to Health and Human Services, Padilla is the clear top choice, by far.
While Padilla is Latino (which was an advantage in this pick), he is also 47, relatively young and potentially able to serve several terms assuming he can be elected by the voters in 2022. That gives him a big leg up on the competition. He also has a long track record, has served on the LA City Council, the State Senate, and as the Secretary of State.
He has the advantage of having both legislative experience and having faced the voters statewide (and won).
The other potential choices are either not as prominent or older, and many have not faced the voters statewide.
Some other potential picks for the Senate seat might have been Adam Schiff, the Congressman, LA Mayor Garcetti, SF Mayor Breed, and Sacramento Mayor Steinberg.
Age was an advantage over people like Bass (67), Lee (74) and Steinberg (61)—and none of them have faced voters larger than a Senate or Congressional District.
The mayors all have distinct disadvantages. Garcetti was a potential cabinet appointment for Biden, who backed off him perhaps over progressive opposition. Steinberg is probably on the wrong end of his political career to garner serious consideration. Of the mayors, London Breed looks like a rising star—relatively young, woman of color, but she is in her first term as Mayor of San Francisco. She will be someone to watch, but not this time.
Adam Schiff is an effective legislator, but relatively polarizing.
You could definitely make a case for a few of the folks I have named, maybe there is a dark horse or two you could throw in, but no one really stands out as being head over heels over Padilla, based on experience and stature.
So, yes, the governor wanted to select a Latino, but even if he didn’t want to do that, Padilla was an obvious choice.
The governor then replaced Padilla with Shirley Weber as Secretary of State. That’s the one that was a surprise. Not that Weber is not deserving. She has a strong record on criminal justice reform, has been a strong leader in the Assembly. But it was not the expected move.
The attorney general pick—which I’m sure the governor will wait on until and unless Becerra is confirmed, and there is no guarantee given his role as attorney general that he will be confirmed, especially if Republicans keep the Senate—will be most interesting.
Looking at a realistic potential list of attorney general candidates, the governor will be under pressure to pick a reformer and most of the list named by publications like the LA Times, shows a long list of people of color and few potential white attorney generals.
When you consider those lists, along with the list of leaders in the state legislature, you recognize pretty quickly that the state Democratic Party is increasingly not a party of white men.
California has never had anyone other than a white male be governor. Even with a shift since 1998 following the 1994 passage of Prop. 187, the last four governors have been white men: Gray Davis (D), Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Jerry Brown (D) and Gavin Newsom (D)—but that’s likely to change with the next governor.
Especially on the Democratic side, the side that has dominated politics at the state level for the last 20-plus years—the strange interlude of Schwarzenegger not withstanding—it is hard to see that the next nominee will be a white male or, if it is, who that would be.
So yeah, Governor Newsom was under pressure to name a Latino to replace Kamala Harris—he was just fortunate that the logical pick regardless was probably the person he picked.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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