Laphonza Butler, 44, a political strategist who runs an organisation devoted to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights is to replace US senator Dianne Feinstein, who died last week at the age of 90, it was announced yesterday by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
I’m proud to announce California’s new United States Senator — Laphonza Butler.
As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault.… pic.twitter.com/SOnbfVPmXj
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 2, 2023
Butler was born in Magnolia, Mississippi, the youngest of three children. Her father died of heart disease when she was 16 years old. She attended South Pike High School in Magnolia and Jackson State University.
Butler began her career as a union organizer for nurses in Baltimore and Milwaukee, janitors in Philadelphia, and hospital workers in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2009, she moved to California, organizing in-home caregivers and nurses, and served as president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 2015.
Butler was elected president of the California SEIU State Council in 2013. She undertook efforts to boost California’s minimum wage and raise income taxes on the wealthiest Californians. As president of SEIU Local 2015, Butler endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
She will be the only black woman in the Senate, and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the chamber.
Butler is unmarried and not known to have any children.
Ms Feinstein, a trailblazer for female politicians, was the oldest senator.
Under Californian law, the governor can appoint a senator until the next state-wide election.
Ms Butler is the first black woman to lead EMILY’s List. Before she started the role in 2021, she was a senior campaign adviser to US Vice-President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential bid.
Ms Butler has also worked as director of public policy at Airbnb and as a union leader.
Last month, prior to Ms Feinstein’s death, Mr Newsom pledged to appoint a black woman to serve the remainder of Ms Feinstein’s term – until elections take place in November 2024 – should the post become vacant. However, he said he hoped that it was a decision he would not have to make.
Ms Feinstein had previously announced plans to retire at the end of next year, but resisted growing calls for her to step down. Several prominent Democrats, including Congress members Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, have previously said they will run for her Senate seat.
In a statement after her death, US President Joe Biden said that Ms Feinstein “made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations”.
Earlier this year, she was absent from Capitol Hill for nearly three months following a case of shingles. She took on lighter duties upon her return and moved around the US Capitol using a wheelchair. She sometimes seemed confused during interviews, and in committee hearings or floor votes.
Ms Feinstein was well known as a vocal advocate for gun control measures, and an ardent supporter of the assault weapons ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
As a senator, Ms Feinstein was the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, where she led a years-long review of the CIA’s controversial interrogation programme of foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The review ultimately led to legislation barring the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding on terrorism suspects.
Sources: BBC, news agencies.