As all the political world knows, the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s Vice President will create a vacancy in the US Senate that Governor Gavin Newsom is authorized to fill by either making an “interim” appointment or calling a special election within 100 days. The Governor has indicated he will appoint a replacement and the jockeying for this Senate seat has already intensely begun.
The Washington-based “Black Women’s Roundtable” is already demanding that Harris’ successor be a Black woman, while the “Latino Victory Fund” endorsed Secretary of State Alex Padilla, saying: “He’s the ideal candidate to break one more barrier by becoming the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate and increase Latino representation.”
An open letter from 150 major Democratic women donors pressed Newsom to choose a “woman of color.” Shortly after the Biden-Harris ticket declared victory, Newsom worried aloud about “the stress of having to choose between a lot of friends, to choose between quality candidates — and the fact that whoever you pick, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be upset.” The Los Angeles Times upped the pressure in an editorial around then: “It’s imperative that Newsom appoint a senator of color. And if he picks a woman, that would be even better.”
Well, Newsom could easily meet the Times’ criteria and please many voters in Southern California by appointing Assembly Member Cristina Garcia, leader of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.
In picking a new Senator, Newsom has two styles to choose from: a) a “Care-taker” who will just serve for the next 22 or so months and then retire; or b) someone who will be a full-time candidate in the 2022 election and possibly beyond. Confronted by the various (and urgent) Covid-19 problems, Mr. Newsom has not yet shared his thoughts with the public on this subject.
Of course, that has not stopped the media and political insiders from speculating on various choices – nor have various interest groups hesitated to lobby for their favorites. Former San Francisco Mayor (and Harris benefactor) Willie Brown told George Skelton that Newsom should appoint himself to the Senate in order to escape the headaches of being Governor. That probably wouldn’t work: students of California politics will recall that when Senator William Knowland and Governor Goodwin Knight tried a “double switch” back in 1958, it backfired disastrously. Mr. Brown also joked that he “couldn’t afford” to take the appointment because of his lucrative consulting gigs. Brown later changed his mind, perhaps after some grassroots heat, telling Politico: “There’s no way that Gavin Newsom should allow anyone other than a Black woman to fill the seat of Harris, who’s only the second Black woman in the history of the U.S. Senate….There should be no contest.”
It is nearly the unanimous opinion of media elites and Democratic power brokers that the replacement for Senator Harris should be a woman and/or minority, so that rules out me as a “care-taker” appointment. (Just kidding!) “Race And Ideology Take Center Stage In Scramble To Succeed Kamala Harris” was the rather direct title of a post on Huffpost.com by Daniel Marans. He went on to observe that, “California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is under pressure to appoint either a Black woman, a Latino or a member of the LGBTQ community.”
So, white males of genuine accomplishment like Jerry Brown and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (both of whom I’ve worked for) are probably out.
The good news for Newsom is that the Golden State has so many qualified women and minorities that meeting this requirement will be fairly easy. In no particular order, here are some of the leading candidates….Congresswoman Karen Bass was the first Black woman to be Speaker of the California State Assembly and was also on Joe Biden’s shortlist for Veep. State Treasurer Fiona Ma and State Controller Betty Yee are both Asian-American women with outstanding backgrounds in government finance that could prove useful with the national debt approaching $30 trillion. Former State Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, who ran a respectable race for the Senate against Dianne Feinstein in 2018 has also been mentioned. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Alex Padilla, and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara are all Latinos with proven track records of winning statewide. Lara is also Gay, as are Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, incoming San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (who is also of Filipino descent) and State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins. The choice of a Latin, an Asian-American or LGBTQ person would all make history, something Gavin Newsome is fond of doing. See his 2004 declaration that San Francisco would accept same-sex marriages, which helped lead to both the California and United States Supreme Courts ruling that it was a “fundamental right.”
Besides advocating for a person of color, the above-mentioned Los Angeles Times editorial noted that there are many possibilities from the Latin Community that they would support and also demanded that Southern California get representation.
For what it’s worth, the LA Times, the New York Times and Skelton are all projecting Padilla as the favorite to get the appointment. But no one except Newsom really knows.
So the LA Times favors a minority, probably a woman, from Southern California. I’ve got the perfect candidate for them: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia from the 58th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Norwalk in Southeast Los Angeles County. While she may not be famous, Member Garcia is certainly intelligent, honest and dedicated. (Full disclosure statement: I worked on Member Garcia’s staff in the State Assembly in 2015).
Let me state up front that I am not knocking any other candidate’s merits. I am sure that most of them would make fine US Senators. This is a pro-Cristina Garcia statement, not anti-anyone else.
Assembly Member Garcia (whose family has roots in Mexico) has many attributes that would help insure a successful career in the Senate. First is her obvious intelligence: she’s a math major and former teacher. Second is her basic honesty and sense of propriety: she first came to prominence in SoCal in the City of Bell scandal where the City Council had turned the budget into their private ATM. When the city of Bell corruption scandal broke, gaining national attention, Ms. Garcia led the fight against the corrupt insiders, forming the “Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA),” a local advocacy organization that forced Bell’s corrupt officials out of office and ushered in accountability and transparency for the first time in the city’s history. Dating back to Hiram Johnson over a century ago, California has had a strong reform tradition and Johnson & Earl Warren (both reformers) are generally considered the Golden State’s two best governors. Even with all his personal flaws, the various reforms of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were his most popular legacy and are here to stay. Reform ballot measures like term limits, ethics rules and redistricting changes have all passed with across-the-board support from both parties and most ethnic groups. There is no better image in California than a crusader against corruption.
Third, as an Assembly Member (and head of the Women’s Caucus), she has shown the ability to get things done: a partial list of her legislation would include: the “Political Conduct, Ethics and Public Trust Acts of 2014,” (the title says it all), the “Youth Legislators’ Program” to mentor high school students in her district to prepare the next generation of leaders, environmental laws to help clean up disasters like Exide and reduce emissions in poorer communities, and AB 256, which deals with “cyber bullying.”
So, she a “reformer with results,” to borrow an old term. Cristina Garcia has credentials on the environment, women’s issues, education and government reform. What’s not to like?
Patrick Reddy is a Democratic political consultant in California and the co-author of “California After Arnold.” He is now working on 21st Century America, which will be published after the 2020 election.