October 05, 2023

By Danny J. Bakewell, Jr.

Executive Editor


Governor Gavin Newsom promised to appoint a Black woman to replace the late U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.  With the selection of U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, he delivered to Californians a young, bold and unapologetically strong leader for the job.

The selection of Laphonza Butler was a surprise by many political leaders throughout California, if not the nation.  But, Laphonza Butler is not new to California politics.  She is a veteran former labor leader and community activist, who prior to accepting Gov. Newsom’s appointment served as the president of Emily’s List, a powerful democratic political advocacy group “dedicated to supporting Pro-Choice Women up and down the ballot and across the country with the goal of fighting for women's rights and our communities.” 

The last Black woman to serve in the Senate was Kamala D. Harris before she was elected U.S. vice president.   Harris, who has remained close to Butler for years, administered her friend’s oath of office on Tuesday, October 3, making Butler only the third female Black U.S. senator in the history of the nation.  Butler and Harris have been close since their paths crossed in California political circles much earlier in their careers.

At the age of 44, Butler will be one of the youngest members to serve in the U.S. Senate and she said about her appointment by Newsom, “You know, my selection came as a bit of a surprise to me for sure.”  But even with this surprise, many believe she is ready, willing and able to carry on the legacy of Feinstein. 

There is already a very intense race for Feinstein’s seat pitting veteran political leaders Congress­woman Barbara Lee, Congress­woman Katie Porter and Congress­man Adam Schiff for a term that will begin in January 2025. 

While Feinstein announced before her passing that she would not run for another term, Newsom had promised in 2021 to appoint a Black woman to the seat if Feinstein retired early. He made that vow shortly after he named Alex Padilla, who was then California’s secretary of state, to replace Harris when she was elected vice president. 

However, with the appointment of Butler, the race could get even tighter since Butler could run as the incumbent if she chooses to enter the race.  When asked if this was a potential move for her, the veteran leader said that she needed more time to make a decision. 

“I literally spent all of today in orientations, finding out how the Senate works. I have been on the campaigns. I know what it takes, but I also want to be respectful of the three current candidates.  I know they are qualified, capable leaders.  I want to be thoughtful about making a direct declaration.  I just haven’t made that decision. I just haven’t done that yet,” admitted Butler, California’s newest senator.

Gov. Newsom faced intense pressure from many Black leaders to choose Rep. Barbara Lee to fill the vacancy.  Lee, who is a veteran political leader, has a lot of experience on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, but Newsom had recently said “he didn’t want to put his thumb on the scales of the current race.” However, Newsom did not set any limitations or preconditions if Butler decides to enter the race according to many people who were closely involved in the selection process.

Outlining her vision for California, Butler made it clear that she does have a plan and also intends to carry forward many of the issues of her predecessor, Diane Feinstein. 

“I think, I can continue to be the center and driver of so many things here in California, but not just for our state, but for our country,” Butler said. 

“I intend to be a part of not only California, but the national conversation about reproductive freedom and I think being a senator from California, it is important to represent the residents of California in that national debate.”

Butler also intends to continue to be an advocate against gun violence, which is an issue that Sen. Feinstein was committed to since her own early political career was impacted by the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in Nov. 1978.

“As a parent, my own daughter’s school has been put on lockdown because of gun violence,” noted Butler.  “I think that families want to see an end to not only to gun violence in schools, but also in our communities.  I want to continue working to find solutions to keep our children safe and help build them the kind of futures they want, that they deserve, and I intend to work to ensure that we are investing in education and strengthening our educators.”

Senator Butler is an experienced leader who has a clear grasp of the issues facing not only Californians, but working people throughout the nation.  Growing up in Magnolia, Mississippi, she watched her mother “sacrifice everything to put her kids first” after the death of her father, working night shifts as a nurse, security guard and classroom aide.

Senator Chuck Schumer, in a speech on the floor of the Senate, said Butler is only the third Black woman in American history to serve in the U.S. Senate.  He called the moment historic for California and the entire country.


“She’s the first openly lesbian senator from California, and she’s the first openly LGBTQ senator of color to serve in this body,” Schumer said. “Today, the Senate takes another step towards fully reflecting our vibrant democracy.”

Labor leaders from across the nation also praised the selection of Butler, from Yvonne Wheeler, president of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor to members of SEIU where Butler served in several leadership position for over 10 years. 

“Laphonza Butler has dedicated her life to uniting working people and fighting for economic and racial justice. She is a strong, passionate leader, and she will make an outstanding U.S. Senator,” the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, said in a statement.

Finally, Butler also wanted it to be known that she is a major advocate for economic empowerment.   She said she wants to make sure that “from local small business to Silicon Valley startups to real estate investors [that] we as a country have to make sure we are creating those economic opportunities and also making sure that we are deploying those resources equitably for all.,” she stressed.   

“We have to spread those resources across all communities and across all lines. Let’s not forget women are the fastest growing entrepreneurs in the country and I want to be able to continue my work to focus on strengthening the economic prosperity and mobility of women across the state of California and across the country,” stated the senator.


Butler has spent her life working for the betterment of working-class people and as a U.S. Senator, she insisted that she doesn’t intend to stop doing that work. 

“I want to make sure that I am utilizing my platform as the United States Senator for California to really put the debate on the issues for workers.  This has been a hot labor summer. There are still hundreds of thousands of workers who are suffering from economic inequality,” said Butler.

She added, “We have to work to address housing insecurities, food insecurities and focus on all the things that will really help families thrive. I think we've got to really start to talk about tell the stories and really engage everyone in a meaningful way to find solutions that hopefully we can start through collegial conversations.” 

Butler noted that through collegial conversations, the public will discover that the farmer in Fresno probably has a lot in common with that farmer in Iowa and in finding and addressing those similar issues leads to engaging and building partnerships to find the solutions to make government work for both of those farmers and farmers all across the place.

Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and chairman of Bakewell Media, said that the selection of Laphonza Butler as the newest California senator was a brilliant selection by the Governor. 

“Laphonza is a serious leader.  She understands not only the issues facing our community, but she also knows and understands the issues facing working people throughout the nation,” Bakewell said. 

“Look at her resume, look at the work she has done, the lives she’s affected and the results she has delivered on.  She is a strong Black woman who has dedicated her life to the service of others, and I have no doubt she will do an excellent job in the U.S. Senate.  Congratulations Laphonsa!”

Category: News