Barabak: Newsom is right in pledging a caretaker for U.S. Senate seat

No candidate should be given an unfair advantage by running as the incumbent

Gavin Newsom put his foot in his mouth two and a half years ago.

California’s governor rescued it on Sunday, saying that anyone chosen to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat would be a placeholder until voters had their say in 2024.

“Interim appointment,” Newsom said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that if an opening arises, he intends to appoint a Black woman. “I don’t want to get involved with the primary.”

Of course, there is no vacancy at the moment. However, given California’s 90-year-old senator Dianne Feinstein’s frail mental and physical state, speculation is rife.

That is where race, politics, and changing circumstances intersect.

But first, let us go back in time.

In March 2021, Newsom faced the looming prospect of a recall election. The effort would fail spectacularly, but the outcome would be months away.

The governor needed all the political help he could get, and he risked alienating Black voters, a key Democratic constituency. Some resented Newsom’s choice of Alex Padilla, a Latino and California secretary of state, to replace Kamala Harris when she left the Senate to become Vice President.

As a result, the Senate has no Black women among its 100 members.

So, when Newsom appeared on MSNBC and was asked by host Joy Reid if he’d “restore” Harris’ seat by appointing a Black woman, he jumped at the chance.

“We have multiple names in mind,” he explained, “and the answer is yes.”

There was good reason for Newsom to consider race and gender when filling a hypothetical vacancy. Only two Black women have served in the Senate’s history, which is, to put it bluntly, wildly unrepresentative and a disgrace.

However, Newsom’s pledge appeared to be more impulsive and calculated than lofty and noble.

It appeased some of Newsom’s detractors. And, while it’s impossible to draw a direct line, the governor’s actions did not endear him to Black voters. More than 8 in 10 voters opposed his recall in September 2021, significantly more than white, Latino, and Asian American voters.

Feinstein remains in office, much to the chagrin of some, particularly those on the left who have never liked her more centrist tendencies.

More importantly, a fiercely competitive primary is now underway to replace her.

“It would be completely unfair to the Democrats who have worked their tails off” to choose one of them to fill out Feinstein’s term, Newsom said on Sunday.

He is entirely correct.

As Newsom acknowledged, one Senate appointment is sufficient.

It is not racist or sexist to suggest such a thing.

Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the most vocal candidates to replace Feinstein and the only prominent Black woman running, issued a statement condemning Newsom’s remarks.

“The idea that a Black woman should only be appointed as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to the countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” said the Oakland Democrat.

“Black women deserve more than just a participation award.” “We require a seat at the table.”

Lee is also correct in arguing that California’s next senator should not be appointed simply for showing up.

A candidate should not be given an unfair advantage by running as the incumbent.

When Newsom announced his intention to choose a Black woman to replace Feinstein, it made sense.

Not any longer.

Politicians are frequently chastised for breaking promises or breaking their word. Newsom didn’t exactly back down from his pledge. He simply changed it to reflect new circumstances.

It was the correct decision.

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