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Gov. Newsom selects Laphonza Butler to fill Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

California Governor Gavin Newsom has tapped a longtime California labor leader and Democratic adviser to replace U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died Thursday at age 90. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Marisa Lagos reports.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Laphonza Butler currently heads the pro-choice Democratic fundraising group EMILY's List and has advised Vice President Kamala Harris. She also has close ties to Newsom's inner circle. Butler will become the second open lesbian and third Black woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. In a statement, Newsom praised Butler as an advocate for women and girls and a fighter for working people. He says she represents the best of California and will, quote, "carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein."

The decision allows Newsom to fulfill a promise he made to appoint a Black woman to the seat Feinstein held for more than 30 years. Butler is a Democratic powerhouse who's worked as an adviser to both Harris and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But much of her career was spent representing in-home caregivers and nursing home workers as head of the largest labor union in the state. She told KQED in 2019 that her experience watching her mother take care of her ailing father while working multiple jobs to keep the family afloat pushed her toward that career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LAPHONZA BUTLER: So my life was really lived through the eyes of a caregiver. My mother's story really was the precursor to my professional career.

LAGOS: Butler was born in Magnolia, Miss. She's married with one daughter. The family moved from Los Angeles to work in Washington, D.C., when she took over as EMILY's List president in 2021. And she's currently registered to vote in Maryland. Newsom's office said she'll reregister in California, where she still owns a home, before she's sworn in. Newsom was under pressure to appoint longtime Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, one of three California Democratic members of Congress running to replace Feinstein. Newsom said he didn't want to put his thumb on the scale in a race between Lee, Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter and Los Angeles Congressman Adam Schiff.

For NPR News, I'm Marisa Lagos in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marisa Lagos