Meet the Maryland Fundraiser Newsom Tapped To Fill California’s Senate Seat

(Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Laphonza Butler's job as the Maryland-based president of Emily's List is to raise money for Democratic political candidates. But she has decided she would rather be a senator herself.

California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) on Sunday announced he would appoint Butler to the Senate seat left open by the late Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, fulfilling his pledge name a black woman for the job. Butler said Monday she she had accepted Newsom’s nomination to serve "a state I have made my home."

Butler will step down from her role leading Emily's List, an organization that works to elect to office Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights. She will be the first black lesbian senator, according to Newsom, and she will serve at least through the end of Feinstein's term in January 2025.

If Butler were to seek election, it could put her in conflict with House Democrats who are already competing for the seat, including two women whom Emily's List endorsed in their congressional races: Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Newsom spokesman Anthony York said the governor did not ask Butler to commit to staying out of the race.

Butler previously worked as a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris and was the president of the largest labor union in California, representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers throughout the state.

Although Butler moved to the D.C. suburbs when she became president of Emily's List in 2021, she owns a house in California and will re-register as a California voter before being sworn in, according to her spokesman and Newsom's office.

"No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but I 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. I am ready to serve," Butler said on Monday.

"Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people," Newsom said in a social media post on Sunday.

Lee—who last month suggested naming a black woman "caretaker" to Feinstein's seat would be racist—on Monday congratulated Butler on her appointment.

"I wish [Laphonza] well and look forward to working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State," Lee said on X. "I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate."

Feinstein in February said she would not seek reelection, and contenders began lining up for her seat. Rep. Adam Schiff (D.) is running for the seat in 2024, along with Porter and Lee.

(Reporting by Urvi Dugar in Bengaluru; editing by Edwina Gibbs and Jonathan Oatis)