California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would appoint Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler to the U.S. Senate to replace long-serving Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died Friday at age 90.

Butler, a labor advocate and Democratic activist, is being praised across progressive circles even as her appointment highlights the ongoing race to choose a permanent replacement for Feinstein in the Senate.

A career-long women’s rights and labor advocate

Politico broke news of Butler’s appointment on Sunday evening. Butler is currently the president of Emily’s List. This progressive political action committee works to “recruit, train, and support Democratic pro-choice women running for office up and down the ballot.” Before heading Emily’s List, Butler had a long career as a labor leader, including running California’s largest union, SEIU Local 2015, serving the state’s nursing home and home-care workers. She has been close to Newsom for some time; he almost appointed her chief of staff, according to Politico. Butler also served as a leading advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential run. Emily’s List has been a significant supporter of Harris’ 2024 reelection campaign under Butler’s leadership.

Praise and congratulations for Butler

Newsom announced his choice in a tweet, praising Butler and highlighting that “Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people.” Newsom’s tweet also noted that Butler “will make history — becoming the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate.”

News of Butler’s appointment has been greeted very enthusiastically by Democrats. Stacey Abrams declared she is “extraordinarily proud” of Butler, who is “the right choice at the right time.”

Hilary Clinton called Butler “a great choice for California and for the Senate.”

The race for the US Senate

Butler’s appointment fulfills Newsom’s promise to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat if it opened before the upcoming election. Her appointment also follows Newsom’s declaration he would select someone who would not be running for the position. California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee are running to replace Feinstein. In recent weeks, Lee clashed with Newsom over his plans for temporarily filling the seat, arguing he should not simply put a “token” Black woman in the role. After the announcement of Butler’s appointment, Lee congratulated Butler but emphasized her continuing campaign to fill the seat permanently with an “experienced” representative such as herself.

Newsom’s announcement does not mention his earlier pledge to appoint someone who will only hold the position temporarily. It is unclear whether Butler will enter the race to hold onto the seat by going against the current set of candidates. Butler said she “will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California,” adding, “I am ready to serve.”

For now, all eyes will be on Butler as she is sworn in on Wednesday by Vice President Harris, her friend and the last Black woman to serve in the Senate. Time will tell if Butler will build a similar political legacy as she transitions from advocacy to public office.