California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Harris in Senate, become state’s first Latino senator

Padilla has already launched a Senate campaign committee

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, seen addressing the Democrats' virtual national convention in August, has been selected to replace Sen. Kamala Harris when she becomes vice president. (DNCC via Getty Images file photo)
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, seen addressing the Democrats' virtual national convention in August, has been selected to replace Sen. Kamala Harris when she becomes vice president. (DNCC via Getty Images file photo)
Posted December 22, 2020 at 1:25pm

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he plans to appoint Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate.

“From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you," Padilla said in a statement. "We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

Padilla will become the state’s first Latino senator. The state’s senior Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, had encouraged Newsom to name Padilla, who worked for Feinstein in the 1990s.

BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also pushed for Padilla. Padilla has ties to BOLD PAC’s outgoing chairman, California Rep. Tony Cárdenas. Padilla worked as Cárdenas’ campaign manager in 1996 and was his district director. 

Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, became involved in politics in 1994 opposing a ballot initiative known as Proposition 187 that denied undocumented immigrants access to public services, including education and health care, according to KCET.

After working for Feinstein and Cárdenas, Padilla ran for office himself, first serving on the Los Angeles City Council. Padilla was elected to the state Senate in 2006 and ran successfully for California Secretary of State in 2014. 

He served as a cochair for the state's complete count committee and helped guide the best-funded census outreach effort in the country. California spent more than $180 million on outreach for the 2020 count, funneled through the complete count committee to hundreds of local governments and organizations in the state.

It’s not immediately clear if Padilla will have to run in a special election. 

Harris’  Senate term expires in January 2023. The governor could call a special election prior to that, but he is not legally required to do so, according to the California Secretary of State's office. If there is no special election, Padilla could serve out the rest of Harris' term and would have to seek a full term in 2022.

Padilla has launched a Senate campaign committee, according to a Friday filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Michael Macagnone and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.