June 22, 2024

On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s will was done. Despite detractors and protestations concerning her residency in the state of Maryland and her fitness for serving the office, former EMILY’s List President and labor leader Laphonza Butler was sworn in to become the United States Senator for California. Newsom’s appointment will fill the seat of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, who passed away on Friday

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Laphonza Butler was sworn in as California’s newest senator Tuesday, filling the seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein just five days after her death.

Butler will stand out in the Senate for many reasons: She is only the third Black woman and the third openly LGBT person to serve in the chamber, and she is one of the youngest members. At 44, she is the fifth-youngest member of a body where the average age was 64 prior to her entrance.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, swore in Butler, a longtime ally. Butler took the oath of office on her personal bible held by her wife, Neneki Lee.

Before Harris’ entrance, Butler and Lee laughed at a private joke as Lee placed a Senate pin on Butler’s gray lapel. Butler’s mother stood at the end of the aisle in the old Senate chamber, draped in its red carpet and curtains and gilded edges, and watched her daughter be sworn in by another history-maker.

Butler was flanked by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and another Newsom appointment for California, Senator Alex Padilla, as she was sworn into office.

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Both the abortion lobby and LGBTQ leaders celebrated Butler’s swearing-in.

LGBTQ and abortion-rights advocates also celebrated her appointment. Tony Hoang, executive director of the LGBTQ rights advocacy group Equality California, said in a statement on X that “this historic appointment by Governor Newsom will give our LGBTQ+ community another voice in Congress at a time when our rights and freedoms are under attack across the country.” Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California said in a statement that Butler “has been a national leader in the fight for reproductive freedom.”

The state of California will be required to undergo a special election to officially choose a candidate to fulfill the remainder of Dianne Feinstein’s term, as well as a candidate who will take on the Senate seat for another six-year term. 

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Butler will serve in the Senate for the majority of the current term, which runs through 2024. The timing of Feinstein’s death means the special election for the final month or so of the term will likely be consolidated with California’s primary and general elections next year. Voters will see two Senate elections on 2024 ballots: a special to determine who should serve the remainder of the current term and a regular election for the next six-year term that begins Jan. 3, 2025.

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