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Who is Laphonza Butler? Gov. Newsom appoints newcomer to late Sen. Feinstein's seat

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SACRAMENTO – Who is Laphonza Butler? Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat.

In a matter of days, the Senate seat went from someone holding it for decades to essentially a newcomer.

Butler has never held an elected seat. However, she has been a Democratic strategist and advisor — most notably for Vice President Kamala Harris.

Butler is known for helping women get elected, but she has now been thrust into a coveted Senate seat after Feinstein died Thursday at the age of 90.

"It's a great, great appointment," said Linda Schneider, a voter in East Sacramento. "But I hope she does not throw her hat into the ring."

While Butler is not currently running to fill Feinstein's seat permanently, there is a crowded field including Representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee. 

Butler's selection has drawn some criticism from both sides of the aisle.

"The governor got himself stuck between a rock and a hard place — most universally agree with that — when he committed to appoint a Black woman should a vacancy appear in the U.S. Senate," said CBS13 Political Analyst Gary Dietrich.

Lee supporters hoped the governor would select her to fulfill Newsom's promise. Following the announcement, the congresswoman wished Butler well while writing that California deserves someone with experience. 

Butler will be the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the Senate and the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in U.S. history.

"I think it absolutely matters because there is a community who benefits and who is in major need of representation, so I think it's a great opportunity," said Kayla Perkins, a voter from Antelope.

Yet, other voters and elected officials say qualification still counts.

"Ms. Butler is actually a Maryland voter so there is a provision in the constitution about the qualifications to serve in the Senate and residency requirements," said Rep. Kevin Kiley, a Republican representing the Third District of California.

Butler does own a home in California and is expected to re-register to vote in the Golden State before being sworn in.

Rep. Kiley also introduced legislation advocating vacant senate seats should be decided by special elections, not political appointments, but political watchers believe it is unlikely the amendment will happen. 

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