UPDATE: On Monday, Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Hamilton posted on X (formerly Twitter) that Laphonza Butler wrote a character letter in May to the judge who decided whether and how long disgraced Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas would go to prison after being convicted in a public corruption case. “She noted MRT’s help when she came to LA in ‘09, his backing of labor, & his friendship,” Hamilton wrote. The letter was filed in August in federal court along with several other character letters.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and labor movement leader, to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein, 90, who died Friday, that runs through 2024.
Butler, 44, who identifies as a lesbian, will be the first out person of color to serve in the Senate and the first LGBTQ+ senator from California.
The selection not only fulfills the governor’s pledge to appoint a Black woman, but also rejects calls for him to pick Rep. Barbara Lee, a prominent Black congresswoman from Oakland who is running for the Senate seat in the 2024 election.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in a statement released Sunday night.
“As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington, D.C.”
Butler is the president of Emily’s List, a national political organization that works on electing Democratic women who support abortion access. Butler has extensive experience navigating Democratic politics. She served as president of the largest labor union in California — SEIU Local 2015 — a union representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers, and as an advisor to Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign.
Butler also has ties to Newsom’s longtime political machine. Before joining Emily’s List, Butler was a partner in the political consulting firm now known as Bearstar Strategies that is run by the governor’s veteran strategists Ace Smith, Sean Clegg, and Juan Rodriguez.
Butler is married to her wife, Neneki, and together they have a daughter, Nylah.
Butler is a former California resident who lives in Maryland, according to her online biography. The U.S. Constitution requires that people live in the state they seek to represent when they’re elected to the Senate.
But for people who are appointed, the law is that they must reside in the state upon assuming office, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the UCLA School of Law.
“So in theory someone could change their residency upon appointment,” he told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
Butler owns a home in California and will re-register to vote in the state before being sworn in, according to the Newsom administration.
State Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher criticized Newsom for picking what he called “Maryland’s third U.S. Senator.”
“Out of 40 million California residents, Gavin Newsom seriously couldn’t find one to serve in the Senate?” Gallagher said in a statement.
“Californians deserve real representation, not a political favor for a well-connected campaign operative who doesn’t even live here.”