California’s Newest Senator to Be Sworn In on Tuesday

Laphonza Butler has never held elective political office but has been a fixture in California politics for years, rising to prominence through labor activism.Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Less than five days after the death of Dianne Feinstein, California’s newest U.S. senator is scheduled to be sworn in.

Gov. Gavin Newsom chose Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List and former leader of the state’s largest labor union, to fill the Senate seat that Feinstein, a fixture of American politics, held for three decades. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to swear in Butler at the U.S. Capitol today.

Butler’s appointment matters in several big ways.

With the Senate narrowly divided, Democrats are eager to fill the vacant seat quickly with another Democrat. Butler once worked as an adviser to Harris during her 2020 presidential bid. And she’ll be the first openly L.G.B.T.Q. senator from California. (You can read more about Butler here.)

Newsom pledged in early 2021 — after naming Alex Padilla to succeed Harris in the Senate — that if another seat were to become vacant, he would name a Black woman. He kept that promise by naming Butler, the second Black woman to represent the state after Harris.

Before Feinstein died, three high-profile Democratic lawmakers had already entered the 2024 race to succeed her: Representatives Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee have all been campaigning for months. Schiff appears to be in the strongest position of the three financially, with $30 million raised, compared with $10.4 million for Porter and $1.4 million for Lee, according to the latest campaign filings.

Some Democrats urged Newsom to name Lee, who has long been a leader in the state’s Black community, to finish out Feinstein’s term. But the governor said that he did not want to tip the scales in the race by appointing one of the contenders.

Butler, 44, will serve until California voters elect a senator in November 2024. She could run in that election herself, but she has not yet indicated whether she would do so. Newsom said on Monday that he had told Butler she could make her own decision; that seemed to be a shift in stance for the governor, who until then had called the appointment an interim one.

On Monday, Newsom tried to focus on what he called Butler’s impressive personal history and deep knowledge of issues important to the state, including abortion rights, worker’s rights and the aging population. He dismissed talk about flip-flopping on the issue as “a side show on top of a side show, a hypothetical on top of a hypothetical.”

“That’s rearview mirror stuff,” he said at a news conference at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. “I have an incredible appointee and she’ll make a decision with no constraints, no expectations.”

Butler’s appointment made a statement, Newsom said, at a time when Republicans across the country were trying to roll back rights.

“The assault on the L.G.B.T. community, the assault on the African American community, criminalizing speech and books and travel, this cultural purge that’s going on in this country — all of those things matter,” he said. “Laphonza Butler is uniquely positioned and simply the best person I could find for this moment and this job.”

For more:

  • The public is invited to pay its respects to Feinstein at San Francisco City Hall this week, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Nine key moments in Feinstein’s political career.

  • Feinstein was an endless champion of San Francisco.

  • When Feinstein was elected in 1992, only two women were in the U.S. Senate. There were 25 on the day she died.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy knew that a dramatic about-face to team with Democrats on a spending bill over the weekend might put his speakership at risk.Credit…Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • One of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s most outspoken Republican critics moved to oust him from his post because he worked with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.

  • The state is preparing to offer transitional kindergarten programs, which combine aspects of preschool and kindergarten, to all 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year, CalMatters reports.

  • Negotiations between striking Hollywood actors and entertainment companies ended on Monday with the sides jointly announcing a return to talks on Wednesday.

Southern California

  • Certain Santa Monica households that have several vehicles will be offered a weekly stipend to use just one of them, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Central California

  • Federal officials filed an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit against a Fresno dog-sitting company on behalf of an applicant and a new employee who said they lost job offers when they tested positive for prescription drugs, The Fresno Bee reports.

Saddleback Mountain rises above the Turtle Rock Viewpoint in Irvine.Credit…Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register, via Getty Images

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Gerry Fisher, who recommends a day hike in Irvine:

Tell us

We’re looking to feature more of your favorite places to visit in California. Send us suggestions for day trips, scenic outlooks, hikes and more. Email your suggestions to [email protected].

A burned redwood stump at Redwood National and State Parks near Orick.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

For those who have visited California’s coastal redwood forests, the fairy rings — clearings in the trees in the shape of a near-perfect circle — are part of the magic of the Pacific Coast’s pristine woods.

Folklore attributes the clearings to moonlit celebrations of fairies and other mythical creatures who leave rings of vegetation in their wake. The scientific explanation for the rings is slightly less supernatural, but it tells a mystical story of its own about the trees’ life cycle and resilience, Garrison Frost writes at the Save the Redwoods League.

The trees generally reproduce by dropping seeded cones on the forest floor, but young trees can also sprout from the existing root structures of mature trees that have been cut down or fallen. Drawing from the roots, the new sprouts spawn around the downed tree’s stump, often in a circular pattern. When the stump eventually decomposes, a near-perfect circle of redwoods is left, as if marked by a fairy.

The circles are not merely visually pleasing: The genetic diversity of redwoods in fairy circle formations can also tell scientists about the viability of second-growth forests, Frost writes.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Maia Coleman, Briana Scalia and Bernard Mokam contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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