UPDATE OCT. 1: Newsom taps Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein's Senate seat
SAN FRANCISCO -- The death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaves a political vacuum in Washington and Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing pressure by supporters of Congresswoman Barbara Lee to appoint her to the interim Senate seat.
When Kamala Harris became vice president, Gov. Newsom gave her Senate seat to Alex Padilla but he promised that any subsequent appointment would be for a Black woman. Now, supporters of Rep. Barbara Lee say it's time to honor that promise.
"We are supportive of Barbara because, not only is she qualified, she's capable, she has served, she's proven herself. And, at the same time, it is past time that we are represented in the United States Senate," said Dezi Woods-Jones, founder of a group called "Black Women Organized for Political Action."
That puts Newsom in a tough spot because Lee, who is already running for the office, is currently trailing two other Democrats, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, in the primary race. The governor sparked outrage among Lee supporters when he made comments on NBC's Meet the Press that indicated he would abide by his pledge to name a Black women but would only appoint that person as a caretaker to finish out the term.
"I don't want to get involved in the primary," said Newsom. "It would be completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off. That primary's just a matter of months away. I don't want to tip the balance of that."
Lee responded with an angry statement, saying, "If the governor intends to keep his promise and appoint a Black woman to the Senate, the people of California deserve the best possible person for that job. Not a token appointment. Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table."
Kellie Todd Griffin is president of the California Black Women's Collective.
"The law says you must make an appointment. It does not say a 'caretaker,' it says, 'make an appointment.' And there's no reason to believe that that person should not be able to run or is not running today" she said.
Dianne Feinstein is credited with saving San Francisco's cable cars and, on Saturday at the Powell Street turnaround, people mused about the dilemma of finding her replacement.
"Interesting dynamic for the governor. I think it puts him in a very difficult spot when you have other candidates that are leading in the polls," said Patrick Kelly from Modesto. "It does give a little bit of unfair advantage if we're so close to the election so, yeah, he has a tough decision to make."
"People have earned that spot ... like her. I think if he appoints her, she's earned the spot," said Holtville resident Mario Botello.
"It's not smooth, it's not clean because I don't know who you'd put in there as an incumbent -- as a temporary caretaker. That defeats the purpose," said Larry Lugo of Carlsbad. He didn't think Newsom should appoint somebody currently running. "No, because he's putting his finger on the scale."
For Lugo's wife, Amanda, it all felt like politics as usual.
"Doesn't matter what side you're on. People all have their opinions and those people all think they're right," she said. "But people are like vultures waiting to get in for themselves, I feel."
Because of their razor-thin majority in the Senate, Democrats are urging Gov. Newsom to make a decision soon. Otherwise, they say, it puts at risk the party's power to approve federal judicial appointments for the rest of the term.
History shows it's hard to defeat someone who is already in office. Supporters of Barbara Lee know that and they're turning up the heat on Newsom to appoint her to the job as a way of insuring that a Black woman will have a seat in the Senate.
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