A Black woman (Laphonza Butler) stands at a podium smiling in front of American flags.

Laphonza Butler Officially Sworn in as Dianne Feinstein’s Senate Successor

When legendary Senator Dianne Feinstein sadly passed away a few days ago, people immediately wondered who her replacement would be. When a seat needs filling outside of a normal election, the governor makes that decision, so all eyes were on Gavin Newsom. He had promised to appoint a Black woman and he kept that promise, naming Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler as Feinstein’s temporary successor. Butler was sworn in Tuesday, officially taking her place as a U.S. Senator from California.

Recommended Videos

Personally, I am pleased with the decision. When I heard Newsom’s announcement, my knee-jerk reaction was that I was glad it wasn’t someone who was already running for U.S. Senate. Newsom originally said he didn’t want to appoint anyone running in the extremely competitive Senate primary, and while this could (and likely will) change, Butler is not currently a candidate in that race.

However, a Berkeley IGS poll found that most Californians wanted someone who was prepared to run for a full term in 2024 and Newsom ultimately walked back that caveat about Feinstein’s replacement not running in the fall. Politically, though, I can understand where he was coming from. Elected political leaders often do not like getting involved in primaries within their own party. The Democratic race has been very interesting with high-profile Democratic members of the U.S. House Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee all in the running. So from the governor’s perspective, I think it is fair that he wanted to stay out of the race. If he had appointed someone who is currently running, that would have undoubtedly given them some advantages.

Who is Laphonza Butler?

Senator Butler became President of Emily’s List, a prominent organization that helps elect pro-choice women in various races across the country, in 2021. She was also an adviser to Kamala Harris’ 2020 campaign. As a big personal fan of Harris, I think this shows that she has good taste politically! She was a labor organizer for almost two decades, working for SEIU Local 2015. She was impactful in that role and helped lead the successful fight in California for a $15 minimum wage.

In totality, I see Butler as showing a commitment to the values that Feinstein possessed and that Californians seem to care about. She has been devoted to lifting up the voices of the marginalized. She is also an LGBTQ Black woman and that means a lot to me as a fellow queer woman of color. Some like to downplay the importance of these identities but I think they bring a unique and important perspective. Also, there have only been two other Black women EVER in the U.S. Senate, which is ridiculous. Kamala Harris was the last elected. So I think this is a big deal. 

Newsom’s office is highlighting the support that Butler has been receiving. The President and CEO of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, gave high praise for the pick calling her someone who has paved the way for countless others to lead. The SEIU California Executive Director, Tia Orr, also praised Butler, saying: “HUGE congrats to my sister Laphonza Butler: SEIU members and all working families look forward to seeing you shake things up on Capitol Hill!!” Even Stacey Abrams weighed in. She called Butler a “stalwart for women, workers, the disadvantaged, and those in search of a better life.” These are all people who have been impactful in their communities. I can see this as an inspiring and progressive choice to replace someone as legendary as Feinstein was.

Some are not that happy though, of course, with many taking to Twitter/X to point out Butler’s lobbying background. “Corporate lobbyist” is often a big red flag, and Butler has worked with AirBnB and Uber, both companies that have had a detrimental economic impact on workers and communities. I haven’t seen extensive research into her “lobbying” career but we do know she has a history of fighting for things like better wages, as I mentioned above.

The Congressional Black Caucus put out a statement celebrating Butler’s appointment even though they initially wanted Representative Barbara Lee to be appointed. They noted that Lee had lengthy experience both domestically and internationally and could do the job, which is definitely true. Representative Lee has been in the House since 1998. She would have been ready to do the job on day one. She has been a leader for civil rights and a competent legislator. The only thing working against her that I have seen, that’s mildly legitimate, is her age. She is 77 years old, making her the oldest major candidate in the U.S. Senate race in California. There’s so much talk about age right now in the Presidential race and will be interesting to see if that will be a major factor in the Senate race as well.

Lee is currently lagging in polls behind Schiff and Porter. I personally saw quite a lot of people who wanted Lee to be appointed as well and thought that move would help her in her Senate campaign, since she is actually running. Some elected officials have used this appointment to highlight the need to help Lee. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley congratulated Butler while writing on Twitter, “I look forward to your partnership & to having two incredible Black women serve consecutively when we elect @BarbaraLeeForCA as the next Senator from California.”

Some saw this as unnecessary and an attempt to dampen the moment for Butler. Others saw this as a good way to help bolster the case and attention for Lee. Either way, I do not know how much this will help Lee’s campaign. It will be intriguing to see if Butler ends up throwing her support to any of the primary candidates already in the race, or if she ends up running herself. Right now, it almost seems like Schiff’s lead is insurmountable but we all know that politics can shift fast!

No matter what, I am hoping that Butler can be a great advocate while she has this job. I am very confident that she will be. She is a qualified person and seems to be on the good side of the fights we care about.

(featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Read Article Let the Olympics Be Horny!
Michael Phelps Kissing Gold Medal Olympics
Read Article Wanna Get Into Chappell Roan? Start With These 10 Songs
Chappell Roan poses in a beauty pageant outfit on the cover of her album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.
Read Article NFL Remains Silent Following Misogynistic Commencement Speech From the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker
Kansas City Chiefs' Harrison Butker on the field at State Farm Stadium
Related Content
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Read Article Let the Olympics Be Horny!
Michael Phelps Kissing Gold Medal Olympics
Read Article Wanna Get Into Chappell Roan? Start With These 10 Songs
Chappell Roan poses in a beauty pageant outfit on the cover of her album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.
Read Article NFL Remains Silent Following Misogynistic Commencement Speech From the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker
Kansas City Chiefs' Harrison Butker on the field at State Farm Stadium