On January 20, 2021, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will head to the White House, vacating her Senate seat. Presently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is mulling over one of the biggest decisions of his political career: appointing the state’s next U.S. senator. Political groups have been putting pressure on Newsom to fill Harris’ seat with another woman of color, and we think one of California’s many Latinas in politics should lead the way.
There are about 26 million Latinas living in the United States, and 7.2 million of them reside in California specifically. They make up 20 percent of the state’s population. These women, like Latinas countrywide, are increasingly running for public office. During the 2020 election cycle, 75 Latinas ran for congressional office, the highest number of Latinas to run in both houses, and in both parties, in a single year.
While Latinas have made gains across levels of government, their presence in the Senate remains meager. In 2016, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) made history when she became the first Latina elected to the Senate, but she remains the only Latina in the chamber. Newsom can change that.
“Our nation will need to have a strong Latina, a loud empowering voice, for our ever-growing community,” Xochitl Cobarruvias, chief of staff for USW Local 675 in Los Angeles, tells Luz Collective. “…A Latina representing us as the California Senator will speak volumes to our Latino population.”
With Harris’ exit from her Senate seat, Newsom has the opportunity to empower a demographic that has helped build California and its economy. Even more, community leaders stress there is a unique pool of Latina talent California has to offer.
“There is an abundance of talent and expertise in California from which to choose…who have all demonstrated the leadership and policy chops necessary to be a powerful voice in the upper chamber of Congress,” Kevin Perez-Allen, deputy director of communications at the NALEO Educational Fund, a nonprofit facilitating Latinx participation in the U.S. political process, tells Luz Collective.
Opinions are clear, and the country is watching. Here are some of the Latinas we believe Gov. Newsom should consider for California’s open Senate seat.
Rep. Nanette Barragán: There has been a rising upswell of support for Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, a Democrat currently representing California’s 44th congressional district, which includes Carson, Compton, Watts, North Long Beach, and more, in the House. Barragán is no stranger to hot-button issues. Earlier this year, she and Sen. Dianne Fienstien teamed up to demand answers from the Southern California Gas Company regarding the undermining of climate policy. The issue hits close to home for Barragán, as she represents one of the most polluted districts in the nation. Defending the lives of low-income communities of color from corporate interest is routine for the representative, and her supporters are just as outspoken.
“Appointing senators is a huge privilege, and those who reflect on their legacy put forward impactful and meaningful champions. …We believe Gov. Newsom should take this opportunity on behalf of Nanette Barragán. She has shown bold leadership on environmental issues, as well as immigration reform,” Elena Christopoulos, a climate scientist and commissioner with the city of Santa Monica, tells Luz Collective.
Rep. Linda T. Sánchez: Rep. Linda T. Sánchez has managed to slip past the national radar for this seat, and we’re not sure why. The congresswoman, who represents California’s 38th congressional district, including the areas of Whittier, Montebello, and more, has been a working-class champion in Congress for 17 years. A card-carrying member of the United Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, she knows firsthand the challenges that working families face. She was one of the key voices that worked to expand the National Labor Relations Act to ensure the rights of laborers organizing for safe and equitable working conditions. As the daughter of immigrants, Sánchez also carries a perspective that would be helpful in the fight to provide certainty and safety to immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens. As the first Latinx person to serve in Congressional leadership during her tenure as Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the 116th congress, breaking barriers and shouldering responsibility are nothing new to Sánchez, and the opportunity for her to lend that expertise in the Senate could be a game-changer.
Hilda Solis: Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis has also made headlines recently as a contender for Harris’ Senate seat. The opportunity to pioneer change for Latinas is commonplace for the politician. Solis was the first Latina elected to the California State Senate and the first Latina Secretary of Labor during the Obama administration. She has also created a name for herself in the fight for climate justice, receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2000 for her tireless environmental work, which resulted in meaningful legislation throughout the years, like the Green Jobs Act, the Los Angeles Region Safe, Clean Water Program Implementation Ordinance, and the Youth Climate Commission. As climate change continues to pummel our planet, strong and uncompromising voices for progress are imperative.
With all eyes on Gov. Newsom as he weighs his options for Harris’ Senate seat, we believe Latinas, who played a pivotal role in electing President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris to Washington and have been key leaders in California for decades, should lead.