Poor Gavin: CA's Governor in an Uncomfortable Pickle Over DiFi's Senate Seat

AP Photo/ Aaron Kehoe

“With great power comes great responsibility” — so the saying goes. Whether one attributes it to Stan Lee’s Spider-Man or Winston Churchill or the Gospel of Luke, the meaning is evident: While it’s “good to be the King,” it can also be a royal pain.


Such is the case at present for Gavin Newsom, Governor of California — the world’s fifth largest economy. While Newsom obviously enjoys great power in that role, he’s currently faced with the thorny specter of Dianne Feinstein — California’s senior senator — leaving office ahead of schedule. This would afford Newsom the opportunity to appoint his state’s second U.S. Senator (Alex Padilla having been tapped to replace Kamala Harris when she ascended to the vice presidency). The problem? He’s faced with a choice between the three candidates currently vying for Feinstein’s seat in 2024 and a previous promise to select a black woman for any future such vacancies. Here’s a bit more on the setup (emphasis mine):

As the 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein charts an uncertain path in Washington after returning to work following a health issue, the fight over whether she should remain and the fate of the Senate seat she still occupies has devolved into an ugly proxy war in California between the three high-profile Democrats vying to replace her, with Newsom stuck in the middle.

Cue the tiny violins. 

Feinstein has already announced she intends to retire at the end of her term next year, setting up a crowded primary fight. But if she were to vacate the seat before then, Newsom would be left to name someone to finish the term — a selection that would be seen as tipping the scales in the primary.

Two years ago after he picked Sen. Alex Padilla to fill an empty seat, Newsom promised on MSNBC to select a Black woman for any future vacancies, which was widely understood to be a nod to Rep. Barbara Lee.

That, however, was before Lee jumped into the Senate race, before powerful Democrats like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi went all in for one of her rivals, Rep. Adam Schiff, and before some of Newsom’s own allies went to work for the third candidate in the race, Rep. Katie Porter.


Why would Newsom have hamstrung himself so by wedding himself to only certain demographics in a prospective appointee? Presumably to blunt criticism aimed at his selection of Padilla, a Hispanic man, to replace Harris, a black woman. (Such are the pitfalls of wholly embracing identity politics, one supposes.)

So now Newsom finds himself in a bit of a political pickle: If he chooses Lee, he cheeses off Pelosi, as well as Porter-supporting allies. But if he chooses anyone other than Lee, he’ll not only aggravate those who criticized Padilla’s 2020 selection but also rightly be accused of going back on his word. What’s a Democratic-presidential-contender-in-waiting to do?

One “insider” shares some insight into Gavin’s current mindset:

“Newsom always says that he hates these [appointments],” said a California Democratic strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He talks about how you make one person temporarily happy and piss off a million others. I didn’t really believe him on the others — but I do believe him on this one.”

“Any decision pisses off someone important,” the strategist added. “There’s more of a downside than upside to just about anything you do.”

All of this, of course, is moot if Feinstein retains her seat until the conclusion of 2024, as she’s indicated she intends to do. Whether she will, in fact, be able to do so given the current condition of her health, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Newsom’s in a somewhat unenviable position…the heart bleeds.



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