Carson On California: California’s next senator must be Latine

With each passing day, it appears more and more likely that Joe Biden will be our next president. No matter where you look, whether it’s the polls or the debate stage, all signs point to an upcoming Biden presidency.

For California, a Biden presidency would mean a lot. Though the former vice president is no darling in the eyes of the Democratic Party’s progressive flank, his victory would mean that California’s 183,000 DACA recipients would no longer be under assault, California’s environmental regulations would no longer face constant challenges from the federal government and more Californians might have access to healthcare, assuming Biden’s healthcare proposal passes. 

A prospective Biden victory would also mean a wide-open Senate vacancy following Sen. Kamala Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency. The vacancy would last two years, in accordance with the time Sen. Harris has left to serve on her current term, and only California Gov. Gavin Newsom has the authority to fill it. 

Our state’s political bullpen has no shortage of political star power. From Karen Bass, the Los Angeles congresswoman whose leadership on a police reform bill made her a favorite to join the Democratic ticket, to Ro Khanna, a progressive Bay Area congressman who served as the national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, the list of candidates who could replace Harris is deep and diverse. However, for reasons of both morality and democratic responsibility, regardless of who Newsom appoints to become California’s next Senator, the appointee must be Latine. 

The first reason should be obvious to most Californians: representation. California’s population, the largest of any state in the union, is 39% Latine. Let me repeat that: Thirty-nine percent of California’s population is Latine. That means this state is home to about 15.6 million Latine Americans, a larger Latine population than any other state. Despite the statistic, and despite the essential role Latines have played in the state’s economic and cultural development since it was founded, California has never been represented by a Latine U.S. Senator. In light of this disappointing history, it would feel criminally unjust and insensible to not take the opportunity to ensure that the state’s senators finally resemble their constituents. 

The governor will not be short for choices, either. The names of several prominent Latine Americans have already been floated to replace Harris. Among the most prominent names are Xavier Becerra, Alex Padilla and Hilda Solis.  

Becerra previously represented Downtown Los Angeles in the U.S. House of Representatives and currently serves as California’s attorney general, where he has made a name for himself by taking the Trump Administration to court at least 100 times. Padilla is California’s secretary of state and is currently at the forefront of confronting voters’ rights issues. Solis is a member of LA County’s Board of Supervisors, represented East L.A. in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly a decade and served as President Obama’s secretary of labor for over three years. 

Clearly, any one of the aforementioned public servants would make for a fine U.S. senator. The wealth of options for Newsom doesn’t end with them either. In August, Luis A. Alejo and Richard G. Polanco, former chairpersons of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, offered a list of 15 Latine candidates to replace Harris to the Sacramento Bee, including Becerra, Padilla and Solis. By appointing any one of the public servants proposed in Alejo and Polanco’s opinion piece, Newsom would not only be choosing among the most representative candidates but the most qualified as well. 

And today, qualifications and competence are desperately needed. Our state faces myriad catastrophes of unprecedented destruction — the coronavirus pandemic, economic recession and unrelenting wildfires. What’s more is that decades of systemic racism and oppression have forced California’s Latine community to bear the brunt of the catastrophes’ burden. 

Latine Americans account for 48.5% of California’s 16,000 coronavirus deaths. According to a recent poll by the Latino Community Foundation and Latino Decisions, nearly 40% of Latine Californians have had to use savings or retirement money to pay for expenses in the wake of the economic ruin caused by the pandemic. In addition, Latine Californians are at far greater risk of suffering from the effects of the state’s wildfires because they disproportionately represent a majority of farmworker positions throughout California’s Central Valley and wine country, where many of them are in the fire’s direct path and face housing instability and exposure to thick heavy smoke while working in the fields.  

There is a trope that journalists give a voice to the voiceless. The same trope is occasionally applied to politics, where candidates sometimes campaign on the idyllic notion that they will serve as a voice for their voiceless constituents. The problem with this, however, is that the “voiceless” have voices, but no one is listening to them. It’s time our governor addressed this, and he will have no greater opportunity to do so than when he appoints California’s next U.S. senator. For the sake of California’s Latine communities, and for the sake of all of us who call California home, let’s hope he makes the right choice. 

Stuart Carson is a senior writing about California politics. He is also one of the deputy diversity & inclusion directors for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Carson on California,” runs every other Monday.