California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
The appointment makes Padilla, a Democrat, the first Latino from California to be in the U.S. Senate.
Newsom made the announcement Tuesday morning via video news conference and social media.
"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. I can think of no one better to represent the state of California as our next United States Senator," Newsom said in a tweet.
Padilla, 47, has been California’s top elections official since January 2015. In that position, he’s overseen California’s vast elections apparatus, including the rollout of a more robust vote-by-mail system. In the November election, California mailed a ballot to every single registered voter. Prior to that, he oversaw the implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act, a 2016 law that allowed counties to mail all registered voters a ballot.
"I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind."
Padilla will hold the Senate seat through 2022, when he will have to run for reelection. Harris hasn’t given a date for her resignation, but she will be inaugurated as vice president on Jan. 20.
Newsom later Tuesday named Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to fill Padilla's secretary of state post for the remainder of his term.
Padilla previously served in the California State Senate (2006-2014) where he chaired the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications.
In 1999, at the age of 26, Padilla was elected to the Los Angeles City Council to represent the same east San Fernando Valley community where he grew up.
Padilla's parents emigrated from Mexico and settled in the community of Pacoima, where his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses, according to his official website.
"To come full circle in one generation, for me to take that life experience and bring that into important deliberations and discussions in the U.S. Senate, it can be overwhelming," he said. "Very emotional."
Padilla graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.
He lives with his wife Angela, a mental health advocate, and their three sons in the San Fernando Valley.
Despite an impressive resume, Padilla was not the man some people wanted for the Senate job.
A number of voters took to social media to say Newsom should have picked a Black woman, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland or Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles, to replace the only Black woman in the Senate.
"It's an unfortunate situation as we are trying to move this country forward and making sure that Black lives truly matter and that African Americans have a seat at the table, especially African American women," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said.
Breed wasn't the only Black Bay Area politician who felt qualified Black women were brushed off.
"Obviously it’s a disappointment," former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said.
Brown thinks Newsom's decision came down to politics
"He saw fit to keep his relationships and his words the way that you do if you’re the governor and I’m sure that he did the best he could," Brown said.
Padilla heads to Washington as California's Junior Senator, with a country in crisis and big shoes to fill.
He says his sleeves were rolled up decades ago, and he's ready to continue the fight for California.
"Whether is how to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act or how to maintain the security and integrity of our election infrastructure," he said, "I've been doing it for the last six years."