Kamala Harris is about to start a historic job as the first woman of color, two times over, to be vice president of the United States. In assuming the role, she’ll leave behind another important one: as California's junior senator, for which in 2017 she became the first U.S. senator of South Asian descent. Per California law, it’s up to the governor, Gavin Newsom, to appoint a replacement to fill Harris' Senate seat for the rest of her term, which runs through 2022. "There's a hundred chores I'd prefer," Newsom told NPR on Election Day about the task, which he's been wrestling with since Joe Biden tapped Harris to be his running mate back in August. "I'm not even exaggerating."
There’s a lot riding on his decision. Not only does Newsom want to pick someone who'll uphold the values and platform that led Californians to elect Harris, but he’ll likely favor candidates who are well situated to win reelection in 2022. (Newsom himself will also be up for reelection that year.)
So far, experts have tossed around a few names that are likely on the list. NPR suggests California Secretary of State Alex Padilla as a possible contender, because he’s a friend and supporter of the governor. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is another possibility, according to POLITICO. Either man would be the state’s first Latino senator, if nominated, despite the fact that California’s population is nearly 40% Latinx.
There's likely also pressure for Newsom to continue California’s tradition of sending two women to the Senate, which the state has done since 1993. The Sacramento Bee speculates that Reps. Karen Bass and Katie Porter are on his shortlist, and are probably joined by Rep. Barbara Lee, who's served in the U.S. House since 1998. In a University of Southern California poll released Nov. 6, 11% of registered voters picked Lee over other potential replacements — the most of any contender. However, 52% of those polled said they “don’t know” who Newsom should go with, so it’s not exactly a bulletproof measurement.
And while it's unlikely, Newsom could also call a special election to fill Harris’ seat. One way or another, he will make a decision soon, as Harris will officially resign her Senate seat on Inauguration Day, when she’s sworn in as the first woman vice president.