Laphonza Butler, a prominent union leader and advocate for abortion rights, has been chosen by California Governor Gavin Newsom to succeed the late Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. In a historic move, Butler will become the first openly Black lesbian to enter Congress, marking a significant milestone in U.S. political history.
Newsom’s selection of Butler fulfills his commitment to appoint a Black woman who had not previously announced plans to run for the Senate seat. Additionally, Butler’s deep ties to various critical Democratic constituencies in California made her an appealing choice for the governor.
Butler’s appointment also highlights her unique position as the only Black woman serving in the Senate and only the third in U.S. history. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that Butler would be sworn in this week.
Expressing her gratitude, Butler stated, “I am humbled by the Governor’s trust. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s leadership and legacy are immeasurable. I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation.”
Butler previously made history in 2021 by becoming the first woman of color to lead EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights. She has also played pivotal roles in presidential campaigns, including serving as a senior adviser on Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign and as an adviser on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Before her political career, Butler held multiple positions at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), including serving as president of SEIU Local 2015 for nearly a decade. SEIU Local 2015 represents California’s long-term care workers and is the state’s largest labor union.
While Butler had moved to Maryland in 2021, she re-registered to vote in California ahead of her Senate appointment, addressing questions about her residency.
Rebecca Haile, EMILY’s List board chair, praised Butler, stating, “EMILY’s List was created to get more Democratic pro-choice women in government, and I am thrilled to see my friend put that into action by taking on this role.”
Butler, originally from Mississippi, attended Jackson State University and has been involved in various boards and organizations, including the University of California Board of Regents and the National Children’s Defense Fund. She is married to Neneki, and they have a daughter named Nylah.
Governor Newsom’s decision to appoint Butler comes after facing pressure from various quarters to choose a Black woman to succeed Kamala Harris. Newsom appointed Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, as the first Latino senator from the state at the time. Despite Rep. Barbara Lee filing to run for the Senate seat in 2024, Newsom made it clear that there were no conditions placed on Butler’s appointment, and her decision to seek a full term next year would be entirely her own.
Newsom described Butler as an advocate for women, working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris. He believes she will continue Senator Feinstein’s legacy by championing key issues like reproductive freedom, equal protection, and gun violence prevention in Washington, D.C.