Story at a glance

  • Kamala Harris officially resigned from her position as a California senator on Monday in advance of her vice presidential confirmation on Wednesday.
  • Taking Harris’s place is Alex Padilla, who will become California’s first Latino senator.
  • Padilla’s new role is a win for diverse representation in the state, where the Latino population hovers around 40 percent.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) also nominated Shirley Weber to take Padilla’s place as Secretary of State, making her the first Black woman to hold that position.

In a historic week of firsts for the country, former California Sen. Kamala Harris (D) prepares to take an oath of office on Jan. 20, officially making her the first Black, the first Asian American and the first female U.S. vice president. 

Prior to taking on her new role at the White House, Harris officially resigned from her former position on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, adding that “I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m saying hello as your vice president.”

Taking her place is California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, whom the state’s governor Gavin Newsom appointed to serve out the final two years of Harris’s first term. Once those two years conclude, Padilla will have the ability to run for the position again if he so chooses.

Padilla’s appointment makes him the first Latino senator to represent California — where the Latino population hovers around 40 percent.

He will be sworn in Wednesday alongside Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, two Democrats who recently won their Senate runoff elections in the typically red state of Georgia. When sworn in, Warnock will become Georgia’s first Black senator and Ossoff the state’s first Jewish senator. The swearing in of Harris and the three new senators marks an important shift in the Senate to a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, and Harris will gain the ability to cast tie-breaking votes as vice president.

Humble roots

The son of Mexican immigrants who settled in the San Fernando Valley, Padilla said he is “honored” and “humbled” because of his hardworking parents. “Can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us, or the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses doing the same thing,” he said during a video conference call with Newsom on Monday.


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Experts say Padilla’s new position as the first Latino senator is meaningful for the many California constituents who share his cultural background, as they will finally get the chance to see themselves represented at the Senate level.

His possible appointment was also backed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in December, who said he was an “excellent choice” to join her in representing California in the Senate.

“Crucially, Alex is someone who understands the many challenges that Californians are facing, and I believe he is very well-suited to fight for them for years to come,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I also believe Alex brings a critically important voice to the Senate as the first Latino senator from California.”

Turning tides

Gov. Newsom not only appointed Padilla on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but also nominated state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to replace the incoming senator as secretary of state. She will be the first Black person to hold the role in California. 

“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State,” said Newsom in a statement. “Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history.”

“These appointments are only possible because of the trailblazing leadership of my dear friend and California’s own Kamala Harris, who will move on from the Senate to make history by becoming the first African American and woman to serve as Vice President of the United States. This is a proud day for California.”


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Published on Jan 19, 2021