Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, to fill Vice President–elect Kamala Harris’s seat in the Senate.
Padilla, the son of immigrants from Mexico, will be the first Latino senator for California, which is nearly 40% Latino. He is a former member of the Los Angeles City Council and state legislator who was sworn in as California’s first Latino secretary of state in 2014.
“Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the State Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s Secretary of State,” Newsom said in a statement announcing the appointment.
Padilla will take Harris’s place in the Senate for the remainder of her term.
Newsom made it clear that part of his decision in placing Padilla in the Senate was due to the secretary of state’s ongoing clashes with the Trump administration. Those fights began almost immediately in 2017, with Padilla refusing to hand over voter information to a voter fraud commission established by President Donald Trump immediately after the 2016 election.
Much like the president’s claims of voter fraud in his losing bid in 2020, the commission in 2017 was unable to find any evidence of wide-scale voter fraud.
“With President Trump attacking immigrants and democracy over the past four years, Padilla has been a warrior for voting rights and the American Dream,” Newsom said.
Padilla entered politics early in his career, winning a seat in the Los Angeles City Council when he was 26. Since then, he’s had a steady rise in politics, winning posts in the diverse state where Latinos were winning more and more seats in government, but where few had reached top posts.
When he was 28, he was elected the first — and youngest — Latino to serve as the city council’s president, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 2015, he became California’s first Latino secretary of state.
“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you.”
Dianne Feinstein, the other senator from California, applauded Newsom’s choice.
“Alex has a long record of public service at all levels of government,” she said in a statement. “Crucially, Alex is someone who understands the many challenges that Californians are facing, and I believe he is very well-suited to fight for them for years to come. I also believe Alex brings a critically important voice to the Senate as the first Latino senator from California.”
Newsom touted Padilla’s work in expanding voting access in the state by increasing registration to an all-time high of more than 22 million people, establishing same-day registration, and automatically preregistering 16- and 17-year-olds.
Padilla grew up in Pacoima, a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, with his parents, immigrants who met in the city and applied for citizenship after the state’s voters in 1994 passed Proposition 187, a notorious anti-immigrant bill to cut services to people without documentation.
On Tuesday, Newsom tweeted part of a video call with Padilla, in which he asked the secretary of state to become California’s next senator. Padilla, visibly emotional at the request, credited his career to his parents’ hard work.
“Can you imagine what mom would be thinking now as I ask you if you want to be the next US senator of the United States of the great state of California?” Newsom said.
“Are you serious?” Padilla responded.
“This is the ask, brother.”
“I am honored, man,” Padilla said. “And I’m humbled. Because of them. I can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us or the many, many many years of my mom cleaning houses.”
Winning the coveted appointment, Padilla is expected to face a crowded field of competitors in the 2022 election.