California Gov. Gavin Newsom has some very big decisions to make.
His state’s junior senator, Kamala Harris, is headed to the White House as vice president. Xavier Beccera, his attorney general, has been nominated for Health and Human Services secretary in a Biden administration.
And Newsom has the power to choose their replacements.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the governor to reshape both state and national politics. A deep bench of officials are reportedly vying for the roles, with their backers making calls and writing letters to the governor on their behalf.
Newsom is under pressure to make boundary-breaking picks as the state’s African American, Latino and LGBTQ constituencies call for more diverse appointments.
“Knowing Gavin the way I do, I think he wants to make history,” former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who represented California for 24 years, told Insider.
Harris is the first Black politician and first Indian American to represent California in the US Senate. She is currently the only Black woman in the Senate, and she’ll exit January 20 when she’s sworn into another history-making role as vice president.
Whoever clinches the appointments will get an immediate boost in their future political prospects, said Fabian Núñez, a former state assembly speaker, and partner at the firm Mercury Public Affairs.
“It’s just a huge head start over any potential competition in an actual race,” Núñez said. Because of this, “people are employing the same kind of political campaign tactics they’re doing with the Biden administration to get appointments,” he added.
Newsom must also weigh whether to pick from some of the state’s members of Congress, such as Katie Porter, which would peel away the Democrat’s already shrunken majority in the House.
In an even more unusual twist, Newsom may be able to make one or two more appointments down the line. If he chooses to send California’s secretary of state to the Senate, it opens up another high profile position.
And the country is watching 87-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein who has already been forced by her own caucus to give up her leadership role in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Should she not complete her term, which ends at the beginning of 2025, Newsom would have to appoint her replacement.
Here are 12 California Democrats that Newsom could appoint to the Senate or the state attorney general’s office in the coming weeks. This list will be updated periodically.
These are the possible contenders to replace Harris once she’s officially sworn in as vice president.
Alex Padilla, California secretary of State
California politicians view the current secretary of State as the top contender to replace Harris. “I think that at the end of the day, nobody else comes as close to Alex,” Núñez told Insider.
Padilla, who got his start serving as president of the Los Angeles City Council, has supported Newsom for years. The governor now has the opportunity to return the favor.
Padilla chaired Newsom’s first, unsuccessful run for governor in 2009 and backed him for governor in 2018 over former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Padilla has served as California’s secretary of state since 2015.
If Newsom chooses to elevate him, the governor would then have to be able to appoint a third California power player to replace him as secretary of state.
Rep. Adam Schiff
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a congressman from the Los Angeles area, might be the highest-profile politician on this list.
He led the House impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump during 2019 and becoming a hero on the left — and an enemy of Republicans — in the process.
Appointing Schiff could elevate one of California’s highest-profile politicians but at the same time anger Republicans, who likely hold Trump’s impeachment against him.
Schiff would also qualify to serve as California’s attorney general.
Rep. Karen Bass
Rep. Karen Bass began her career as a community organizer in Los Angeles. She has represented the Los Angeles area in Congress since 2011, and the 37th district since 2013. She currently chairs the powerful Congressional Black Caucus.
Bass had made history before she even arrived in Washington. In 2008, she was elected speaker of the California state assembly, making her the first Black woman to hold the position.
Her profile rose even further over the summer as Biden’s team briefly considered her as a potential VP pick before going with Harris. During Bass’ vice presidential vetting, she took heat for decade-old remarks she made in priase of the Church of Scientology.
Rep. Barbara Lee
Lee is a 12-term California congresswoman and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is one of Congress’ most consistent progressives and co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
When asked by CapRadio about potentially filling Harris’ seat, Lee said, “Certainly, it would be an honor. But I think that the governor really, through this process, knows exactly who he thinks will best represent California and best represent the agenda of which Senator Harris has put forth in the Senate.”
Rep. Katie Porter
Porter first came to national attention in 2018, when she flipped California’s 45th district from Republican to Democrat. She won re-election this year, and removing her from her seat runs the risk that Republicans could recapture the district.
Footage of Porter questioning during House hearings has gone viral several times thanks to her penchant for direct questioning and frequent use of charts. She made headlines this year for taking pharmaceutical executives to task over the cost of their drugs.
Toni Atkins, president pro tempore of the California state senate
Fun fact about Atkins: she served as acting governor of California for a few hours back in 2014, and once again in 2019. In both cases, the actual governors were temporarily out of the state, so Atkins took over their duties for a spell as required by state law.
During that first stint, she was also, briefly, the first openly gay governor of California.
Atkins has broken several barriers in her legislative career. In 2014, she became speaker of the State Assembly, making her only the third woman and only out lesbian to hold the powerful position. In 2016, she was elected to the State Senate, and two years later, became the first woman and first LGBTQ official to lead the chamber.
Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach
The relatively young mayor of Long Beach immigrated from Peru at age 5. He grew up in Southern California and eventually got involved in media and politics. He founded the Long Beach Post, a local newsroom, and used the paper’s impact to position himself for a mayoral run.
He served on the Long Beach City Council and was elected vice mayor by his peers. He successfully ran for mayor in 2014. He is the city’s first openly LGBTQ and Latino mayor.
California attorney general
These are some of the politicians reportedly vying to be the state’s top lawyer. State law requires the attorney general must be licensed to practice law in California at least five years prior to running for or assuming the role. That makes the list of eligible replacements for Becerra narrower than those who could take up the Senate seat.
Dave Jones, former state insurance commissioner
Jones ran for attorney general in 2018 but lost in the primary to Becerra. As Becerra, his former opponent, heads to Washington to become HHS secretary, the vacancy opens a new door for Jones.
Jones was a member of the State Assembly until voters elected him California’s insurance commissioner in November 2010, where he oversaw the state’s insurance industry. He left office in 2019.
Darrell Steinberg, mayor of Sacramento
Steinberg has been the mayor of California’s capital city since 2016.
Before becoming mayor, Steinberg served as a member of the California State Assembly and later in the state senate where he was president pro tempore from 2008 to 2014.
He spent a decade as an employee rights attorney for the California State Employees Association, and he served as an administrative law judge.
Rep. Ted Lieu
Lieu, a three-term congressman, represents some of the Los Angeles area’s glitziest enclaves, including Calabasas, Bel Air, and Beverly Hills. He has raised his profile through savvy use of social media, criticizing Trump on Twitter, and has gained thousands of followers in the process.
Lieu was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States as a small child. He graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1994 and joined the Air Force the next year as a military prosecutor.
He served in both chambers of the California legislature before winning a congressional seat in 2014.
Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland
Schaaf began her career as an attorney before running to serve on the Oakland City Council. She was elected mayor of Oakland in 2014 and has taken progressive stances on immigration during the Trump era.
Trump has singled out Oakland, and Schaaf, in his attacks on “sanctuary cities” and undocumented immigrants. The battle elevated Schaaf’s reputation outside of Northern California.
In 2018, Schaaf barred city employees from assisting immigration officials and issued a warning about a potential Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid to the public. The move infuriated Trump, who directly attacked her on Twitter.
“Oakland welcomes all,” she responded.
Lorena Gonzalez, California state assemblywoman
Gonzalez, who has a background in labor issues, has represented parts of San Diego in the state assembly since 2013.
She’s expanded her profile within the state and gradually, on the national stage, due to her policy agenda, which included raising the California minimum wage and granting paid sick days to private sector employees.