Alex Padilla Picked to Replace Kamala Harris, Will Be California’s First Latino Senator

Alex Padilla
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Alex Padilla has been appointed to replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Latino senator from California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement on Tuesday morning, calling Padilla “a tested fighter” and a champion for voting rights.

Padilla, the California secretary of state, was considered the favorite to succeed Harris, especially in light of the growing clout of the Latino vote in the state. He has long been close with Newsom, backing his first campaign for governor in 2009. Padilla will serve out the remainder of Harris’ term, which ends in 2022, when he will likely run for election in his own right.

Newsom also faced pressure to appoint a Black woman to the seat. Harris was only the second Black woman elected to the Senate, and when she resigns to become vice president, the upper chamber will once again be without any Black women.

Padilla is a child of Mexican immigrants, and lives in the San Fernando Valley. He will become the first Southern Californian to represent the state since John Seymour, a former Anaheim mayor who was appointed to fill the remainder of Pete Wilson’s term after Wilson was elected governor in 1990.

Newsom released a video of a Zoom call in which he offered the appointment to Padilla. When Newsom made the offer, Padilla became choked up.

“I’m honored, man, and I’m humbled,” Padilla said, invoking his parents. “I can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us, and the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses doing the same thing…That’s a hell of an important perspective to bring to Washington.”

“You gotta say yes,” Newsom said.

“Absolutely,” Padilla replied. “I’m ready. I’m ready.”

Padilla was elected to the Los Angeles City Council at age 26, and became the youngest council president in the city’s history in 2001. He later was elected to the state Senate from the San Fernando Valley, and was elected secretary of state in 2014.