Padilla, 47, has been California’s top elections official since 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.
He’ll 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 Jan. 20.
As a Los Angeles resident, Padilla will bring geographic diversity to California’s representation in Washington. Dianne Feinstein, California’s other senator, is from San Francisco, and politicians from Northern California have held some of the state’s highest political offices for decades. Harris built her political career in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles.
Feinstein, whom Padilla once worked for, announced her support for his nomination in early December.
He and Newsom have a long relationship. When Newsom first ran for governor in 2009, Padilla chaired his campaign. Newsom dropped out when former Gov. Jerry Brown entered the race and instead ran for lieutenant governor, a job he held for eight years. When he ran again for governor in 2018 in a competitive primary, Padilla endorsed him over other prominent Democrats, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Latino Victory Fund were among the groups advocating for Newsom to select Padilla.
Still, Newsom’s selection will frustrate others. Black leaders in particular were urging him to choose a Black woman, such as Reps. Karen Bass or Barbara Lee. Because Harris was the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate, some people felt Newsom should choose someone to maintain that representation.
But in choosing Padilla, Newsom gives himself yet another appointment. He’ll be able to select California’s next secretary of state. He’s also weighing his choice for California’s next attorney general, as President-elect Joe Biden has named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Padilla has been on the state’s political scene for more than two decades. He was first elected to serve on the Los Angeles City Council in 1999, at age 26.