When U.S. Senator Kamala Harris became Vice President-elect, California Governor Gavin Newsom was tasked with filling her seat by appointing someone who will hold office until elections can be held in 2022. To do that, he turned to long-time ally and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Newsom might have drawn some flak for failing to appoint a Black woman to replace Kamala Harris, but Padilla is still making history as the state’s first Latino senator. The California governor took to Twitter to announce his decision to ask Padilla to fill Vice President-elect Harris’ seat by sharing a video of their conversation along with a caption saying, “His appointment will make history. But the @AlexPadilla4CA I know is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.”
“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts, and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a Senator for all Californians,” Newsom also said in a separate statement (via NBC).
The appointment got a thumbs-up from Harris who tweeted, “Congratulations to my dear friend, @AlexPadilla4CA! Alex and I have long served the people of California together, and I know he will continue fighting for our state as California’s first Latino senator.”
Alex Padilla has a working class background
Alex Padilla was born in California to working class, immigrant parents from Mexico. His father was a short-order cook and his mother was a housekeeper. Padilla rose through the local public school system and eventually went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering (via the California Secretary of State website).
He heard his call to action with the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994 — which had sought to kick out undocumented immigrants from all non-emergency public services in California, including access to public schools. “The message was clear: the state of California is struggling and it’s the fault of families like yours and people like your parents,” Padilla said of what he was hearing from people in power at the time. “I knew right then and there I had to do something to change it.” (via Politico).
He got his start in politics by working for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. By the time he turned 26, Padilla won a seat in the Los Angeles City Council, representing the same district he grew up in (via Cal Matters). In 2006, he was elected to the California State Senate, where he authored a California law mandating that restaurants list calorie information on their menus and menu boards. He was also behind California’s first smoke-free housing law. He served in the California State Senate until 2014 and became its Secretary of State in 2015 (via NPR).
Alex Padilla is behind Californa's successful mail-in voter campaign
Alex Padilla successfully shepherded several progressive initiatives during his time as California’s Secretary of State. He’s credited as the brains behind a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, a move which was even criticized by fellow Democrats who were worried that the ban might hurt a big L.A.-based plastic bag manufacturer. “The sky does not fall and consumers adapt and life goes on,” Padilla said of concerns about the statewide ban (via Cal Matters).
Padilla is also credited with pushing changes to the state’s voting rules, which resulted in a record number of new voters. Cal Matters notes these changes include adding a mechanism that makes eligible adults registered voters when they apply for a new driver’s license, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds so they are added to voter rolls when they turn 18, and making it a statewide practice to have ballots sent to active registered voter — whether they signed up to vote by mail or not. But this success had a controversial consequence that haunts the new Senator from California to this day.
Padilla isn't without a skeleton in the closet
Alex Padilla’s attempt to draw in new voters has not come without scrutiny. Earlier this year, he tapped Democratic political consulting firm SKD Knickerbocker to help spread the word about the safety and security of mail-in voting. They did just that by running a statewide advertising campaign. However, the California State Controller’s office hasn’t seen the contract, which means the state’s Department of Finance hasn’t cut the check and the firm has yet to be paid. The outstanding fees add up to $35 million (via The Sacramento Bee).
The problem appears to be that Padilla didn’t have the authority to spend the money. California State Controller Betty Yee says the money was supposed to go to voter outreach efforts, not to pay a consulting firm. It hasn’t helped that the public affairs company is a supporter of Team Biden, giving California Republicans a reason to accuse Padilla of partisanship in his attempt to get more people to vote (via The Sacramento Bee).
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