When Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged on NBC’s “Meet the Press“ in early September that he would name a Black woman as interim senator from California should anything happen to longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it was a mere political footnote.
With Feinstein’s death early Friday, that plan has become much more significant.
For one thing, it establishes that Newsom will not name Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee to the job because she is seeking it long-term. She is running third in primary election polls behind fellow Congress members Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine.
The primary will be held in March, but the filing deadline is still weeks away, so Newsom will take his appointee’s word that she will not run for the seat.
One thing is for sure: Newsom will have to act on the appointment quickly because Democrats have such a small edge in the Senate today.
He has also pledged to appoint a Black woman because the Senate now has none, and the last was California’s Kamala Harris, who gave up the seat to become vice president.
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Who will Newsom appoint to replace Feinstein?
The list of potential candidates among Black women political figures is substantial, including veteran Los Angeles Rep. Maxine Waters, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. There is also current Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who badly wanted the Senate seat given up by Harris.
But all of them have had long political careers and demonstrated lifelong ambition. Could they be counted on notch to seek the seat in the primary, where they would become natural rivals for Lee?
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Perhaps the best positioned for a Newsom appointment in this group is Breed, who will be up for reelection soon, with likely opposition from philanthropist Daniel Lurie, likely to be a self-funded candidate.
Breed has made political enemies over her three years as mayor, which could harm her in a race against the relatively unknown Lurie. In San Francisco’s ranked-choice election system, that could be fatal.
Meanwhile, Waters shows no sign of being ready to give up her longtime job to accept a career-capping Senate appointment, and Bass is not far out from a long and arduous campaign for her current job and is unlikely to give it up easily. Mitchell is probably too young to want a caretaker job.
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Would Weber, well positioned to run for a higher office in California, be willing to give up her current job or something temporary?
Newsom may reach outside politics for his appointee. There has been talk that former talk show host and current magazine and book publisher Oprah Winfrey might be of interest. Winfrey, though, would have to take more than a year away from her many lucrative enterprises if she did this.
The bottom line: Newsom says he has many names in mind, but it still might be difficult to find one willing and able to perform well in this job, making the governor look good.
Thomas Elias writes the twice-weekly California Focus column for publications across the state, including the Desert Sun, where this column first published.
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This article originally appeared on The Record: Who should Newsom pick to fill Feinstein's Senate seat? Why not Oprah?