While many praised Newsom's choice, advocacy groups and political leaders had spent months pushing the California governor to choose a Black woman for the spot, considering Harris is the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate.
Advocates lobbied Newsom to choose either Reps. Barbara Lee or Karen Bass, two of the most powerful Black women in Congress. According to insiders who spoke to The New York Times, both were at the top of Newsom's list along with Padilla, a Latinx man.
Aimee Allison, the founder of advocacy group She The People, slammed Newsom's decision in a statement to The 19th, telling the news outlet that "we need to keep marching forward and not reverse progress.”
“Sen. Harris cannot be the only woman of color at the table… It’s not enough for her to break this glass ceiling — there needs to be a path for future generations of women of color to follow in her footsteps. We cannot afford to wait decades for the voices of Black women to be heard,” she said.
Our founder and president, @aimeeallison, joins other orgs as they urge CA Gov. Newsom to appoint a woman of color, specifically a Black woman, to fill VP-elect Harris' U.S. Senate seat.
Women of color need representation at the highest levels of office!https://t.co/0mBdiH1uhF
— She the People (@_shethepeople) December 15, 2020
Politico reported that more than 100 women affiliated with Black Women United sent a letter to Newsom earlier this month pushing him to choose Lee or Bass for Harris' seat.
“Black women have continuously been credited with saving the Democratic Party. By retaining the only seat held in the United States Senate by a Black woman, California has an opportunity to do more than just thank Black women,’’ the letter read.
“Congresswoman Bass and Congresswoman Lee, both of whom are seasoned policymakers and proven leaders, will hit the ground running to address the devastating economic impact and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,’’ it added.
"We absolutely cannot go backwards," the congresswoman wrote in a tweet last week. "With the election of Kamala Harris to VP-elect, California Governor Gavin Newsom must prioritize this leadership, perspective & representation in the vacated U.S. Senate seat & appoint a Black woman."
"Barbara Lee and Karen Bass are seasoned policymakers," she added.
Another group, Let’s Keep the Seat, also sent Newsom a letter making the same demand, calling the lack of Black women in the Senate "unacceptable."
One of the signers of that letter, state assembly member Shirley Weber, became Newsom's choice to replace Padilla as secretary of state.
A fearless advocate with unimpeachable integrity and moral clarity — there’s no one better suited for the job of Secretary of State than @AsmShirleyWeber.
With her, CA will continue to be a model for the nation in expanding democratic participation and access to the ballot box. pic.twitter.com/fcpuZuYQ8e
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 22, 2020
Harris was just the second Black woman senator after Carol Moseley Braun, who was the Senator for Illinois from 1993 to 1999.
Harris herself said a Black woman should replace her in an interview with The 19th's Editor-at-Large Errin Haines.
“There are 100 United States senators — this should not just be about California. This is a national issue. … It is inexcusable that we would not have full representation in the United States Congress," Harris said. "This should not just be about any one state. We should be saying this across the nation because there are so many talented Black women and women of color, period, who are on that path and they should be encouraged.”
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 22, 2020
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who was also floated as a potential appointee, expressed dismay over the decision.
SF Mayor @LondonBreed, just now, on Padilla appointment to Harris Senate seat: "This is a real blow to the African American community, to African American women, to women in general…it was definitely a surprise and it’s an unfortunate situation…it definitely is unfortunate."
— Doug Sovern (@SovernNation) December 22, 2020
In a statement to Blavity, President and CEO of Higher Heights for America Glynda Carr congratulated Weber for her appointment but expressed concern about Newsom's choice.
"While we are excited for Assemblywoman Weber’s new position, we must also recognize that there is continued work to be done, as she joins just two Black women to ever hold this position in the United States and she will join just five Black women who currently serve as statewide executives," Carr wrote.
"We remain disappointed in Governor Newsom’s selection of a man, Alex Padilla, to the U.S. Senate seat yesterday, but are encouraged by the progress made with this announcement, as the concurrent COVID, economic, and racial reckoning pandemics across California and the nation continue to necessitate Black women’s representation in all places where decisions are being made," she added.