Monday, September 18, 2023








        Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged after appointing former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the Senate in 2021 that he would name a Black woman to the job if the seat long held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein became vacant on his watch.


        Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland took that to mean her, plainly figuring she is entitled to that seat, chiefly because the slot Padilla got and later won on his own had been occupied previously by current Vice President Kamala Harris, the Senate’s only Black woman before she moved up.


        But the 90-year-old Feinstein has served almost three years beyond the date of Padilla’s appointment, persisting through a serious and painful case of shingles, some alleged dementia and other ailments, while getting around mostly via wheelchairs. Meanwhile, the 77-year-old Lee and much younger fellow Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine are embroiled in a tight and spirited race to replace Feinstein, who insists she will serve out her full term until it ends in December 2024.


Fully aware of this, Newsom makes it clear that if Feinstein can’t persist, he will indeed appoint a Black woman to the job, but not one who is running for a full six-year term. Instead, he says he’ll name a temp.


So, no, Barbara Lee will not get to list herself as a

sitting senator on California primary election ballots next March.


        This infuriates her. Lee doesn’t quite admit to that much emotion, but said she is “troubled by the governor’s remarks” in announcing he would appoint a temporary senator if anything should happen to Feinstein.


        Lee added that “The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory, election after election. If the governor intends to keep his promise and appoint a Black woman to the Senate, the people of California deserve the best possible person for that job…We need a seat at that table.”


        In other words, she’s essentially saying, “Appoint me (if there’s an opening) or risk losing your party’s most reliable voting bloc.”


        Newsom, to his credit, refuses so far to be bullied, sticking with his commitments both to appoint a caretaker and a Black female.


        He essentially ignored Lee’s fury and her implicit threat and stuck with both promises he’s now made, all the while insisting he hopes Feinstein serves out her term.


        One thing that’s clear from all this is that Newsom reads the polls. They show Schiff, Porter and Lee all running well ahead of several potential and declared Republican candidates, making a Democrat-on-Democrat runoff election next fall very likely.


        Newsom, hoping to remain a major figure in his party long after his second statehouse term expires in 2026, plainly does not want to alienate backers of Schiff and Porter by awarding the seat to Lee during the leadup to the March primary election.


        He knows that any incumbent, even one who’s served only a month or two, gains credibility and an automatic advantage over electoral rivals.


        And Lee, running a fairly distant third in every poll, needs any advantage she can get, one key – but unspoken – reason for her displeasure at Newsom’s latest promise.


        But Newsom didn’t worry about that. Nor did he say whether he agrees with Lee that she is the “best possible person for the job.”


        Instead, he completely avoided comment on the current candidates, saying only that “We have multiple names in mind.”


        His comment also served his own political purposes, inserting him into the Senate race without having either to endorse or directly alienate anyone.


        This preserves his position as a national party leader without committing himself to any particular appointee. Newsom thus manages to please almost everyone but Lee and her most ardent supporters.


        Plus, he’s right. With only a few months before the primary, and no wish to endorse any of the leading candidates, why should he elevate one hopeful at the expense of the others?


        The answer is that he should not, and he was both correct and adroit in managing to avoid promising to do so.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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