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Mississippi native tabbed as Dianne Feinstein replacement

Mississippi native Laphonza Butler is set to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Photo courtesy of EMILY's List)

Following the death of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Gov. Newsom will appoint Laphonza Butler to fill the congressional seat.

Butler, born in Magnolia, Miss. in 1978, attended South Pike High School before studying at Jackson State University. Following graduation, she started her career as a union organizer for nurses, hospital workers, and janitors.

In 2013, Butler was elected to the California Service Employees International Union Council (SEIU) State Council, where she worked closely with then-Gov. Jerry Brown and was eventually named president of the labor union. During her time with SEIU, she fought to raise California’s minimum wage and impose more taxes on the wealthy.

In 2018, Brown appointed Butler as regent of the University of California, a position she resigned from in 2021. She has also served as a partner in the San Francisco-based consulting firm, Bearstar Strategies, and most recently as president of Emily’s List, a political action committee (PAC) devoted to electing female Democratic candidates in favor of abortion rights to office.

Outside of her relationship with Brown and her PAC efforts, Butler has maintained a strong role in California politics. According to POLITICO, Newsom debated naming Butler as his first chief of staff. She has also served as a confidant of Vice President Kamala Harris, working as Harris’ senior strategist during her 2020 presidential campaign.

Butler, who is based in Washington, D.C. but has close ties to the Los Angeles area, will switch her voter registration to California as she is set to be sworn in on Wednesday.

Feinstein, who passed away at the age of 90 after over three decades in the Senate, was not planning to run for reelection in 2024 as her health declined. If Butler decides to seek a full-time role as one of California’s two senators following a 15-month stint in office, she will go up against Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee, all Democrats currently campaigning to relocate chambers.

Upon being sworn in, Butler will be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate. She will also be the Senate’s first Black woman since Harris.

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