A group of local and state Latino leaders gathered at Fresno City Hall calling for Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint one of their own to an expected vacancy in the U.S. Senate.
More than two dozen Latino-based organizations are on a five-city tour, with Wednesday’s stop in Fresno. They want a Latina or Latino as the next senator representing California.
“It’s long past time for us to make that step and to make sure that we put someone forward who can understand the struggles of our Latino communities, who can understand what it’s like for so many of our farm working families, for our families who are struggling with immigration issues,” Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) — a member of the California Latino Legislative Caucus — said.
Newsom has the constitutional authority to select a replacement for current senator and presumptive Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The appointed term would up for election in 2022, when Harris’ current term expires.
Waiting for a First
“Some suggested back then that the Latino community should wait our turn. But Latinos in California know that wait and see story far too well, and we are tired of being told to wait our turn.” — former state legislator Luis Alejo
Advocates say there has never been a Latino senator representing California. Fresno Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria hopes Newsom will appoint the first.
“The governor has had a track record of being the first at many things,” Soria said. “We are pushing again for the goal to break that glass ceiling for our Latino community.”
Soria said Newsom is known for setting precedents, such as the first to sanction same-sex mayor when he was mayor of San Francisco (a decision that was later reversed by the courts) and appointing the first openly gay Black member of the state Supreme Court.
Luis Alejo, a Monterey County supervisor and former state legislator, says the Latino community has waited long enough.
“Some suggested back then that the Latino community should wait our turn. But Latinos in California know that wait and see story far too well, and we are tired of being told to wait our turn,” Alejo said.
While the leaders encouraged a Latino pick, they did not specify any names. Possibilities that have emerged include state Attorney General Xavier Becerra — whom former Gov. Jerry Brown appointed to that vacant position in 2017 when Harris became senator, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
Other Communities Advocating for Their Own
Other minority groups are also advocating for picks from their community.
The Black Lives Matter organization says the representative must be a Black woman.
“Appointing a Black woman to this seat is nonnegotiable — this must be done. Our government is about representation of the people, and as we saw in this election, Black people, and more specifically Black women, are constantly showing up for democracy,” Fox News quoted a BLM statement as saying.
The Fresno branch of the NAACP is also calling for an African American woman.
“The African American vote is powerful. It is the only group in California that consistently votes democrat and stands behind the Democratic Party. Gov. Newsome needs to acknowledge, and not overlook the qualified African American women we have in California, Rep. Karen Bass and Rep. Barbara Lee,” said the Fresno NAACP’s Abena Cruise.
LGBT-rights group Equity California wants the first openly gay U.S. Senator.
“Appointing an openly LGBTQ+ person to the U.S. Senate — just the third in the nation’s history — would send a powerful message about the Golden State’s leadership and values to the rest of the nation,” Equity California’s executive director Rick Chavez Zbur wrote, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Arambula said it is important to have someone with a shared experience.
“Having for the first time, a Latino or Latina representative in the United States Senate would allow us to have someone with lived experiences who’s culturally and linguistically competent to be able to speak to the issues that matter for our communities,” Arambula said.
First Vacancy in 30 Years
The last senate vacancy in California was in 1991, when Pete Wilson was elected governor. Wilson picked John Seymour in his place. Dianne Feinstein defeated Seymour in a special election in 1992, and has held the seat ever since.
Would Soria, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2020, accept a Latino/Latina Republican pick?
“I don’t know if that will really happen, but, you know, that’s yet to be seen,” she said.[Correction, 11/19/2020: Xavier Becerra was appointed to state attorney general in 2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown. It was erroneously reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom made the appointment in 2019.]