How will California Gov. Newsom pick Kamala Harris' replacement? Ethnicity, electability, experience?

By Lara Korte and Kim Bojórquez, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Political News

Newsom also has a years-long relationship with Padilla, who was actively involved in his first gubernatorial campaign in 2008 and 2009. Then-state senator Padilla was Newsom's statewide campaign chair: traveling with the governor, introducing him at town halls, and attending fundraising events.

Becerra, who was appointed to his current job by former Gov. Jerry Brown, doesn't have the same history with Newsom.

"You don't have to be a close personal friend of the governor, but I do think it helps if the governor has some familiarity with you and has a long-standing relationship with you and trusts your judgment and has confidence in your ability to win the seat in your own right," South said.

California-based Republican political strategist Luis Alvarado said a Latino, particularly Padilla, is at the top of the list to replace Harris.

"As the state continues to grow, the state must have a conduit, a bridge that allows those young Latinos to feel included into the vision of what California is going to be in the future," he said. "What better candidate to represent this large growing group, then somebody from their own community to represent them in Washington, DC."

Padilla, he said, is one of the few candidates who has support among Democrats, Republicans and moderates.

Alvarado said Becerra is also a strong contender but believes he'd serve the community and state better in the Biden administration or continue in his role as California's attorney general.

Even if Padilla wasn't a Latino, Alvarado believes the governor would have a hard time explaining why he didn't select him as Harris' successor due to his political pedigree and experience as secretary of state.

"In the end, I think he has to commit to a Latino candidate, because that is the future of California," Alvarado said. "The Latino community will not be happy with him if he does not pick a Latino."


Whoever is appointed to Harris' seat will have to quickly turn around and face an election in 2022. The other California senators in recent history who gained their seat by a governor's appointment — Pierre Salinger in 1964 and John Seymour in 1991 — both lost their reelection races.

Whoever Newsom appoints will have to be ready to run a statewide campaign by the June 2022 primaries, and is likely to compete against a rash of qualified Democrats.

"You can't appoint a political novice, there's too little time to get up to speed," South said. "It would be a huge risk to appoint some business person without a political background, or somebody who is a civic leader who has never run for office before."

A Harris replacement must also be up the task of running offices in a state as massive as California, Carrick said.

"You end up having to run a bunch of offices all across the state," he said. "So the importance of having really good staff work both in California and Washington is essential."

A member of Congress, such as Lee or Bass, would meet many of the necessary qualifications for U.S. Senate, but may pose other problems. With a slim majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats may not want to lose a member, even if it's in a solidly-held district.

"If you pick someone who is a sitting member of Congress, even if it's a heavily Democratic seat, that seat's going to be vacant for four or five or six months until you have a primary or a runoff in a special election," South said. "If I was Nancy Pelosi, I wouldn't be particularly happy about Democrats vacating another seat where she already has razor-thin majority to deal with the U.S. House."

(c)2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC