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We Cannot Let Nepotism Fill the Leadership Vacuum in California

Several top California lawmakers have been confirmed or floated for positions in Biden’s Presidential Cabinet. Here’s what this shifting landscape means on the ground in California and what you can do about it.

Governor Gavin Newsom speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. (PHOTO: Gage Skidmore)

Since Joe Biden announced California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate this past summer, obvious speculation has arisen over her replacement, alongside questions regarding the mechanisms of how that transfer of power would work. With Biden’s victory and the subsequent opportunities to fill his cabinet, several other high-profile California legislators have also been chosen for spots in Biden’s cabinet, and the gaps these leave have many Californians scratching their heads as to what and who comes next.

While in specific cases, including the LA Mayorship, there may be special elections, for the most part Governor Gavin Newsom alone holds an unprecedented appointment power that will shape the next generation of California politics. It’s a frightening idea for someone whose leadership in recent months has been plagued by scandals calling into question his consideration for those most affected by the pandemic, including dining maskless at The French Laundry despite CA’s highest ever COVID hospitalization numbers, and more recently uncovered details that companies owned by the Governor got $3 million dollars in PPP loans (with certain businesses in the joint trust earning seven times more aid than comparable businesses). It is imperative that these appointment selections be monitored closely and public progressive pressure applied.

Here’s the current status of what’s happening with the shifting legislator landscape, what happens next, and what you can do:

  1. Senator (Replacing Kamala Harris)

Newsom’s most high-profile and long awaited appointment comes in selecting a replacement senator for California, obviously in response to Kamala Harris’ election as Vice President. With over half of California residents having voted for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 presidential primary, there’s public demand to select a progressive such as Karen Bass, Ro Khanna, Nanette Barragan, or Barbara Lee, but more moderate choices like Secretary of State Alex Padilla are increasingly likely. Progressive coalition organizations across Los Angeles have started organizing around this nomination, including candidate questionnaires, an organization sign-on letter, and community tweet storms to pressure the Governor to appoint someone on the Left who can truly meet this moment policywise, including support of a Green New Deal, a Homes Guarantee, and defunding the military industrial complex. Padilla’s recent completion of the questionnaire emphasizing his middle-of-the-road milquetoast liberal persuasion underlines the importance of this grassroots campaign (more information on those efforts can be found below).

2. Attorney General (Replacing Xavier Becerra)

Biden recently tapped California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to become secretary of Health and Human services, leaving that position now open for another Newsom appointment. This adds to Newsom’s extraordinary power at this moment in selecting key appointees, moves that will reshape California politics for decades to come. Both Becerra and Harris’ replacements will serve until 2022 elections.

High up on Newsom’s list to replace Becerra is San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, along with some more familiar SoCal names like Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff. Tony West, chief legal officer at Uber (and thus an architect of the nefarious Prop 22), is one of the more alarming names floating around. The fact he also happens to be Vice President-elect Harris’ brother-in-law has also been a point of contention. While Dennis Herrera wouldn’t be the worst option for progressives, there are far stronger choices, including Assembly District 80’s Lorena Gonzalez whose endorsements include United Farm Workers and UNITE Here Local 30. Gonzalez is also in the running for CA Secretary of State as both a potential appointee and a candidate in the 2022 election (see below). Some have even floated a long-shot option for AG in Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s new DA who, in an unprecedented move last month, charged a police officer with manslaughter for an on-duty homicide. Boudin’s appointment, although unlikely, would match California’s (specifically Los Angeles’) exploding enthusiasm for police accountability reform in the wake of George Gascon’s election in LA and the adoption of Measure J and Prop 17.

3. MAYBE: Mayor (To replace Eric Garcetti)

Although at time of publishing we are on Day 17 of protests outside of Garcetti’s house to stop a Biden appointment, there are still chances that our Mayor may be nominated to a Cabinet position.

Things might be starting to look up for Garcetti nay-sayers, however, as this week Biden announced his nomination of Ohio House Representative Marcia Fudge as Housing and Urban Development Secretary over Garcetti. The fact Garcetti was even in consideration for the position — and is still in the running for Transportation Secretary and possibly an Environmental post — is laughable. Los Angeles is struggling with an ongoing housing crisis, a looming eviction crisis, and a 19% increase in homelessness in 2020 pre-pandemic. Furthermore, LA’s reputation with regards to public transit is notoriously, stereotypically bad.

Earlier this week the President-elect announced that Garcetti is set to head the Inauguration Committee, which has many speculating that the glorified party planning role rules him out of contention for a larger position.

However, should all of the recent backlash against Garcetti in his own city (including ongoing investigations into longtime Garcetti aide Rick Gates’ persistent record of inappropriate conduct) prove insufficient to Biden ruling him out, the City Council will appoint an interim mayor before scheduling a special election. This would likely mean current Council President Nury Martinez would take the reins as Mayor. Because the seat is up for re-election in 2022, they might forgo scheduling a special election in favor of just waiting for the 2022 primary cycle depending on the date of the appointment.

4. MAYBE: CA Secretary of State (To replace Alex Padilla)

Current secretary of State Alex Padilla is at the very top of the list of potential Senate appointees, and with Becerra now out of the running, odds are in Padilla’s favor to replace Harris. Should this happen, Newsom will have yet another opportunity to appoint a top-level California position in the Secretary of State, cementing an unprecedented level of power in the hands of the governor unseen for at least 70 years of California politics. Senator Dianne Feinstein has already voiced support for Padilla’s appointment, which should also raise alarm bells for those concerned with a liveable future in California. As mentioned previously, Lorena Gonzalez has thrown her hat into the ring for the 2022 election for Secretary of State, where she will be challenging Padilla should he not get the Senate appointment.

What you can do:

  • This Friday, December 11th there will be a tweet storm pressuring Newsom to nominate a progressive to the Senate from 10 AM-12 PM. The toolkit can be found here.* Post the graphics on page 3 of the toolkit to your social media channels!
  • If you are a member of an organization in California, request that it signs on to this letter, demanding that Harris’ replacement confront the ongoing climate catastrophe.
  • If you are a leader of an organization with ties to a potential senate appointee, contact Alex Nagy email hidden; JavaScript is required for our Candidate Questionnaire.
  • Keep showing up to the Block Garcetti protests every day at 9 AM at the Mayor’s Mansion (6th and Irving) and sign onto this petition.
  • Look out for the next #Garcettiville tweet storm, a toolkit for which can be found here.
  • Remind yourself of all of Garcetti’s failings with this incredible interactive resource: https://garcettiville.com/
  • Support and amplify the progressives mentioned in this article on social media, and let Newsom know that we are closely watching his appointments and ready to rally our side in support or opposition to his picks.

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