(The Center Square) – California governor Gavin Newsom announced he is appointing Democratic fundraiser and abortion fights advocate Laphonza Butler to fill the vacant United States Senate seat left open by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. Butler’s appointment comes amid a fierce three-way race between Congressmembers Adam Schiff, D–Burbank, Barbara Lee, D–Oakland, and Katie Porter, D–Huntington Beach.
Newsom’s appointment of Butler, who moved to Maryland in 2022 and remains registered to vote there is not without controversy, but Butler does have strong ties to California. Before rising to presidency of Emily’s List, a national political action committee that aims to help elect pro-abortion Democratic female candidates in office, Butler helped run political campaigns, including for Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and for more than a decade served as the president of the largest labor union in California, SEIU Local 2015.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” said Newsom in a public statement. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault.”
Before Feinstein’s death, Newsom had promised multiple times to appoint a black woman to fill a potential Senate vacancy for California, and most recently reiterated this promise earlier in September. Newsom also said he would not appoint any of the declared candidates to succeed Feinstein for the position, setting off a hasty negative response from Lee, the only black woman among the race’s top candidates.
“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country,” said Lee in a public statement responding to the governor’s announcement on his intention to not choose from an announced candidate.
It’s likely in response to this rebuttal that Newsom, according to a report from Politico, placed “no preconditions” on Butler precluding her from running in 2024.
Under Butler, Emily’s List has focused its recent operations on Virginia, where it has recruited nearly half of its new state and local candidates for the 2023-2024 election cycle. Democrats maintain a four-vote lead in the Virginia Senate, while Republicans hold a three-seat lead in the Virginia House of Delegates, along with the state’s governorship, attorney general, and secretary of state positions. Emily’s List raised $102 million in the 2021-2022 election cycle, making it the 10th largest political action committee in the nation overall and the third-largest outside of fundraising platforms and party-run committees.
Emily’s List supports both Lee and Porter, listing both on its list of supported candidates. According to OpenSecrets’ database, during the 2022 election cycle, Emily’s List gave $10,000 directly to Porter, while employees for Emily’s List gave another $32,211 to Porter. In the 2020 cycle, Emily’s List also gave $10,000 to Porter, while employees gave another $31,450. Emily’s List has not given money to Lee, and while its employees did not donate to Lee in 2022, employees gave $50 in 2020.