WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, released a statement Monday following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment of Laphonza Butler to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, queer people of color have representation in both chambers of Congress,” Takano said. “As the first out person of color to serve in Congress, I am thrilled that Californians and all queer people of color have in Laphonza Butler a leader that can speak and legislate to the experiences of our community.
“Laphonza Butler’s appointment to complete the term of Sen. Feinstein has cemented this seat for trailblazers and history makers. I look forward to working with her to solve the challenges facing California and our country.”
Butler is the president of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to electing women, EMILY’s List; a long-time senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, a labor leader and advocate for women and working people. She will be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate. She will also be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate following Harris.
Butler is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday by Harris.
It was unclear if Butler plans to enter the race for a full term next year. Candidates already seeking the position are Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter.
Newsom had vowed to appoint a Black woman to the Senate seat if it became open. Feinstein died Thursday night at her home in Washington, D.C., at age 90.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” said Newsom. “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. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Sen. Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington, D.C.”
Butler comes from a working-class family. Her father — a small-business owner — was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died when Butler was 16 years old. Her mother was the household’s sole provider, working as a classroom aide, a home care provider, a security guard, and a bookkeeper to provide for Butler and her two siblings.
With her selection to the Senate, Butler will step down from her role as president of EMILY’s List, where she was the first woman of color and mother to lead the organization. Prior to joining EMILY’s List, Butler ran political campaigns and led strategy efforts for numerous companies, organizations, and elected leaders — including Harris and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Butler was a key leader of Harris’s presidential campaign.
For more than a decade, she served as the president of the largest labor union in California — SEIU Local 2015 — a union representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers throughout the state.
Previously, Butler served as president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW) and also as director of SEIU’s Property Services Division, in which she was responsible for the strategic direction of organizing on behalf of more than 250,000 janitors, security officers, window cleaners, and food service workers across the country. Butler also served as an SEIU International vice president and president of the SEIU California State Council.
Butler was the former director of the Board of Governors of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve System. She was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 and served until 2021. She served in various other roles, including as a board member for the National Children’s Defense Fund, BLACK PAC, and the Bay Area Economic Council Institute, and as a fellow for the MIT Community Innovators Lab.
Butler was named a “Champion for Change” by President Barack Obama.
Butler received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Jackson State University. She and her wife, Neneki, have a daughter, Nylah.