Newsom Selects Democratic Power Broker Laphonza Butler to Replace Feinstein in the Senate

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has reportedly selected Laphonza Butler, a Democratic power broker, to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom has reportedly selected Laphonza Butler, a Democratic power broker, to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate. The news was first reported by Politico.

  • Butler is the President of EMILY’s List, the powerful fundraising giant dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to federal and statewide office. Butler will be the first LGBTQ woman to represent California in the Senate and black woman to serve in the Senate since Kamala Harris resigned in 2021.
  • Before EMILY’s List, Butler was the President of the California State Council of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a powerful union representing health care workers and government employees.
  • Butler is a Harris ally, having advised her 2020 presidential campaign and backed her run for California Attorney General in 2010 during her time leading SEIU 2015, which AP News described as “a powerful force in California politics.”
  • Newsom has said he would not make an “interim” appointment and Butler would be free to seek a full term in 2024. Her appointment comes four days after the death of Feinstein, California’s longest-serving senator, on Thursday.
  • The race for California’s Senate seat has been underway since Feinstein announced her retirement earlier this year. Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee are all currently running and have raised millions for their respective campaigns.
  • Butler would have to start from scratch in terms of both money and name identification, despite all the advantages of incumbency. But if anyone can quickly raise the vast sums necessary to competing in populous, expensive California, it would be the head of EMILY’s List.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • Politico reported “The swift nature of Newsom’s appointment cuts politicians and their allies off from mounting more sustained efforts to lobby the governor and his inner circle over his pick. And it halts interest groups that were starting to apply pressure on him, including over the question of whether he would require them to serve only temporarily.”
  • The New York Times described Butler as “a fixture in California politics for nearly 15 years” who “led the state’s largest union and was an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris before taking the helm at Emily’s List.”
  • The Washington Post noted Butler’s appointment fulfills Newsom’s 2021 pledge to appoint a black woman to the Senate in the event of Feinstein’s death or resignation. The other women reportedly under consideration included Lee, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, and Secretary of State Shirley Weber.



  • “Butler’s appointment could dramatically alter the Senate race already under way for the seat in 2024,” The Wall Street Journal emphasized. Two sources told the Journal “there were no conditions set by Newsom that she sit out the race.”
  • The Washington Examiner noted “Newsom reportedly worked quickly to make a decision as the Democrats held a precarious 51-49 advantage in the Senate. With a government shutdown just narrowly averted and Congress still very much at odds, the California Democrat likely saw the Democratic vote as essential.”
  • The Washington Times observed Butler “has served as director for public policy and campaigns at Airbnb and as a member of the University of California Board of Regents. She also has been a leader with the Service Employees International Union for decades, including as president of the union’s California chapter.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023