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Alex Padilla To Replace VP-elect Harris, Becoming California’s First Latino Senator

Senator Alex Padilla was California's secretary of state until Gov. Gavin Newsom chose him to replace Senator Kamala Harris when she assumed the office of U.S. vice president.
Senator Alex Padilla was California's secretary of state until Gov. Gavin Newsom chose him to replace Senator Kamala Harris when she assumed the office of U.S. vice president.

After months of speculation and fielding fierce lobbying, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate seat soon-to-be vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The son of working-class Mexican immigrants, Padilla will be the first Latino to represent California in Congress’ upper chamber, a milestone celebrated by Latino lawmakers and advocates.

The 47-year-old also made history as the first Latino to serve as Secretary of State. In 2001, he became the youngest person to be elected president of the Los Angeles City Council at 28 years old. Padilla also served eight years in the State Senate.

“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 news release. “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. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

As Secretary of State, Padilla oversaw a greater shift to vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic and record-shattering 17.8 million ballots cast during a contentious presidential election.

Newsom praised Padilla as “a national defender of voting rights” someone who ascended from “humble beginnings” to the halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — where he earned a mechanical engineering degree — the L.A. City Council and the state legislature.

“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said in a news release. “He will be a Senator for all Californians.”

Padilla will finish out the two years left in Harris’ term and would need to seek re-election in 2022 to keep the seat. He opened a campaign committee Tuesday morning, ahead of the announcement.

Newsom will also get to choose Padilla’s replacement as Secretary of State. That’s in addition to filling the state attorney general post currently held by Xavier Becerra, who was tapped to lead the federal Health and Human Services agency under the incoming Biden administration.

Groups including the Latino Victory Fund lobbied hard for Newsom to pick Padilla and send a Latino to the Senate soon after Kamala Harris was named President-elect Joe Biden’s running mate in August.

Latino Victory Fund president and CEO Nathalie Rayes said Padilla’s appointment “marks a long-overdue milestone” for California’s Latino community.

“It’s a bold step towards having a Senate that looks like the communities it serves,” Rayes said. “His appointment will not only increase Latino representation in the Senate, but it will also open the door for future generations of Latino leaders.”

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