Laphonza Butler: What we know about Newsom’s pick to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Senator-designate Laphonza Butler will make California history this week as the first open lesbian woman of color to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.

Governor Gavin Newsom picked Butler to temporarily fill the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat, but revealed Monday his decision was intended for the long-run.

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“She was the only choice,” Newsom told reporters during a Monday press conference. “She has deep governmental experience, meaning she understands how systems work. She has deep understanding of legislative process, deep national experience, she’s next-level qualified.”

Butler will be able to run for the seat in 2024.

The 44-year-old Mississippi native has never held public office before, but is a well-known consultant and has been a trusted advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris.

ABC7 News political insider Phil Matier says she checks all the boxes for Newsom.

“He wanted an African American woman, that’s what he got. She’s also a lesbian, very active in democratic politics. Big with union politics and she lives just outside D.C. So she doesn’t have to move,” Matier said.

Butler was previously the president of Emily’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, where she campaigned to elect democratic pro-choice women across the country. Before that, she was a regent for the University of California, the director of Public Policy and Campaigns for AirBnB and the Ppesident of the California SEIU Council, where she spent more than a decade.

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“And God, did she do a lot of things in that decade! She inspired a lot of us,” said Carmen Roberts, the organization’s vice president.

Roberts says Butler has been an advocate for low wage workers and women of color – adding one of her victories was leading the effort to increase the statewide minimum wage up to $15 per hour.

“You know, most of us were making $7 to $8 an hour and now we’re on our way to $20 an hour,” said Roberts. “And none of that would have happened without the tenacity and the work of Lophanza Butler.”

Newsom says he first met Butler years ago and has since been impressed by her commitment to fighting for everything from civil rights to LGBTQ+ rights. Plus, she’s young.

“In some ways you can’t even make all of this up,” Newsom said. “If I had to design from my mind of imagination of someone I would like – it’s her, including time of life. She’s just 44 years old.”

Supporters say they’re excited for Butler to pave the way for a new generation.

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“And she’s going to be such an example for little Black girls like my granddaughter, who see someone that looks like her in that position and knows that anything is possible. And that’s the excitement that we all have!” Roberts said.

This choice allowed Newsom to follow through on a prior promise of appointing a woman of color and not appointing someone who’s currently in the race.

“I was clear about that and concerned we were so close to the election, just a couple of months,” said Newsom.

The decision followed mounting pressure from the Congressional Black caucus that’s been voicing support for Rep. Barbara Lee, one of three candidates vying for the democratic nomination alongside Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Katie Porter.

“It doesn’t help anybody but it hurts Barbara lee the most,” said Matier. “She’s already struggling to get out the polls, she would like our new Senator to come out and say I support Barbara Lee – will that happen? Stay tuned!”

Laphonza is expected to be sworn into the U.S. Senate by Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday.

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