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Black Women Organizers Lean On Newsom To Appoint Barbara Lee or Karen Bass To The Senate

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Progressives didn’t have long to celebrate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ historic victory in November. Her win jump-started the unofficial campaign to secure her soon-to-be vacant Senate seat. As Inauguration Day looms just over a month away, Governor Gavin Newsom is facing colossal pressure regarding the pick.

The latest salvo: A coalition led by Black women political organizers is holding rallies in Los Angeles and Sacramento on Tuesday, calling on Newsom to appoint a Black woman to the position.

“We want to make sure that we do not lose our seat and are not erased from [the Senate],” said Molly Watson with the progressive group Courage California. Watson also serves on the board of the Black Women Democratic Club of L.A. County. Harris is currently the only Black woman in the upper chamber of Congress.

Watson and other organizers of #LetsKeepTheSeat are lobbying Newsom to select either Congresswoman Karen Bass, who represents Los Angeles, or Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland, for the job.

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L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, City Councilmembers Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, state Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and state schools superintendent Tony Thurmond are among the prominent elected leaders who have signed on to the effort.

Democratic groups have differing wish-lists of candidates for the role, however.

Last month, Latino elected officials and nonprofit leaders held a week of public events across the state calling for Newsom to make history by naming a Latino or Latina to succeed Harris. Secretary of State Alex Padilla tops that list of contenders.

The appointment offers a national profile and job security -- an incumbent Senator hasn’t lost in California since Dianne Feinstein won her seat in 1992.

Nourbese Flint, executive director of Black Women For Wellness Action Project, calls the perceived competition between a Black or Latino candidate a “false choice.”

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“We absolutely need more Latinx people in leadership. Everybody should have a voice in that conversation and have their values represented,” Flint said. “But it shouldn't be at the expense of other diversity.”

A potential wild card: the future plans of the senior Senator from California.

“Dianne Feinstein could make this job a lot easier for Gavin Newsom,” said Flint, “if she decided she wanted to retire after a wonderful history of being in the Senate [almost] 30 years, and provide a space where we could actually have both.”

The 87-year-old Feinstein's term doesn't end until 2024, but a recent story in The New Yorker suggested she is struggling with cognitive decline.