Laphonza Butler to Replace Dianne Feinstein, Will Be First Black Lesbian in the Senate

The EMILY’s List president will only be the third Black woman to serve in the Senate; she will be the first openly queer Black woman Senator

Laphonza Butler to Replace Dianne Feinstein, Will Be First Black Lesbian in the Senate
Photo:Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

After Dianne Feinstein died Thursday night at the age of 90, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) made good on his previous promise to nominate a Black woman to the position and appointed EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein’s seat through the 2024 Senate elections. Politico reported she’ll be sworn in on Wednesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, whose presidential campaign she advised.

While Mississippi-born Butler lived in California as an organizer and political worker for decades, she moved to Maryland when she took the job at EMILY’s List in 2021. (She’ll be changing her voting registration before Wednesday.) Butler will be only the third Black woman to serve in the Senate after Harris and Illinois’s Carol Moseley Braun. She’ll also be the first Black lesbian and first queer woman to represent California in the Senate.

“Laphonza will bring an important perspective to the upper house at a time when the rights of women and the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community are under attack,” The Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a statement.

Getting Butler into the Senate quickly is important because of the razor-thin Democratic majority and because Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is facing repeated calls to resign after a federal indictment accused him (and his wife) of bribery. Longtime California politicians Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff have all mounted campaigns for the seat since Feinstein announced in February that she wouldn’t be running for reelection. Newsom said he was uninterested in getting involved in the already competitive primary for Feinstein’s seat and put no qualifications on Butler’s appointment. Butler has not said if she plans to run for the seat, but if she does, Butler will have to mount a campaign almost immediately.

Before serving as head of EMILY’s List, Butler was a longtime head of SEIU Local 2015 in California, the nation’s largest union for longtime homecare workers, and was a former regent for the University of California system. She was also a partner in SCRB Strategies, Newsom’s consulting firm. From September 2020 to September 2021, she worked as a public policy executive at Airbnb.

Despite all this, in 2019, she “advised and represented Uber” while it mounted a campaign against classifying drivers as employees, according to Bloomberg. “Many felt betrayed when she represented Uber in 2019,” reported. “Several unions have already endorsed other candidates in the Senate race.” Startups, including Uber, spent $200 million supporting the measure. Voters approved the measure in November 2020.

“I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home. I am humbled by the Governor’s trust,” Butler said in a statement to media on Monday. “Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s leadership and legacy are immeasurable. I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation.”

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