California Gov. Gavin Newsom has already admitted that open racism will be a defining factor in his choice of a replacement to fill California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat.
Feinstein, a Democrat and a matriarch of California politics for more than three decades, died Thursday night at the age of 90. Her death followed years of health complications that led the longtime lawmaker to announce in February her decision not to seek another term in 2024.
Candidates had already lined up to replace her. Rep. Katie Porter launched a Senate campaign before Feinstein had even announced her plans to retire. The latest data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows more than $10 million in the bank for the Los Angeles-area congresswoman’s election effort. One of Porter’s California colleagues, however, has triple the amount of cash on hand. Rep. Adam Schiff is running with nearly $30 million in his campaign war chest to be Feinstein’s successor, according to federal election data.
The process of replacing Feinstein, however, will not be marked by a competitive contest for the open seat in the upper chamber — at least not right away. Newsom had already publicly pledged to appoint a black woman to Feinstein’s seat amid rumors the senator would resign. Newsom made the promise in an on-air interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid who pressured the governor to choose a successor based on race and sex, in adherence to the tenets of identity politics.
“If in fact Dianne Feinstein were to retire, will you nominate an African-American woman to restore the seat that Kamala Harris is no longer in the United States Senate, and do you have a name in mind?” Reid asked in a 2021 interview.
Newsom apparently misstepped by hiring the wrong minority to take the seat vacated by Harris after the senator was elected as vice president. The governor picked then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who became California’s first Latino senator.
“We have multiple names in mind, the answer is yes,” Newsom assured Reid two years ago.
Now it doesn’t matter how qualified Feinstein’s successor might be. Her stint in the upper chamber will always be marked with the asterisk label of an “affirmative action hire” who was explicitly chosen for her sex and race. President Joe Biden’s commitment to pick a black woman as his vice presidential running mate and later for a Supreme Court appointment stuck Harris and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson with the same label. Their appointments would mean far more had the president picked them without an explicit racial litmus test.
Newsom offered more clues about a potential successor earlier this month when he maintained on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he still plans to appoint a black woman, but added it would not be Rep. Barbara Lee. The governor said he would seek a “caretaker” appointment first.
“I don’t want to get involved in the primary,” Newsom said. “It would be completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off. That primary is just a matter of months away. I don’t want to tip the balance of that.”
But Newson’s comments have mostly revolved around what would happen if Feinstein, who had recently surrendered power of attorney to her daughter, voluntarily resigned.
“We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I’ve said very publicly on a consistent basis. Yes,” Newsom told NBC.
Rep. Lee, who is black, initially trashed the governor’s comments that he would appoint a black woman as a “caretaker” of the Senate seat until it can be filled via an election.
“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 who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” Lee said. Even more insulting, however, is the idea that a black woman would be appointed for her race and sex in the first place, and not her qualifications for the job.
Lee currently trails Schiff and Porter in the latest aggregate of polls by RealClearPolitics.