LOS ANGELES – The jockey has started the summer, right next to the celebrations. Leading California Democrats were thrilled that Kamala Harris was named the Democratic running mate and eager to help her and Joseph R. Biden get to the White House. It was not an issue on which the sprawling and divided state political establishment disagreed. But what to do with this empty Senate seat? It was much more delicate.
Latinos make up about 40% of California and remain a growing population in the state. White residents make up about 38%, and black residents make up almost 6% of the state’s roughly 40 million people. Until Ms. Harris won her Senate seat in 2016, the state had been represented by two white senators since 1983.
Some Latino officials point to these numbers and argue that state governor Gavin Newsom must – undoubtedly – appoint a Latino to the United States Senate, the first in California history.
But black political leaders argue that Ms. Harris cannot be replaced by anyone other than a black woman. Without her, they noted, the Senate would not have black women in the Senate.
Mr Newsom’s decision, which is expected to come before the end of the year, is not just a matter of politics. Each candidate whose name has been posted on different lists agrees on major issues. Instead, the choice makes it clear that even for advocates who genuinely believe in coalition building, to a large extent, arguments are a zero-sum game – if a group gets what it wants. , it is impossible for the other group to get what they want. he also wants. And he has divided many leaders who are generally united.
“We have waited a long time to see the representation match the size of our community,” said Thomas A. Saenz, executive director of the Mexican US Defense and Legal Education Fund, which pushed for a Latino choice. “We need to have representatives who reflect the people here. The point is, the African American community is not growing in California and Latinos make up a growing portion of the electorate.
As the Democratic Party prepares to take over the White House, representation struggles are also unfolding within the presidential cabinet, with black, Latino and Asian members of Congress each pushing the Biden-Harris transition for nominations. And the efforts threaten to open up divisions among Democrats who have long relied on a multiracial alliance.
The debates bring to the surface long, simmering tensions between groups that have historically struggled for power at the highest levels. In California, Mr. Newsom’s decision has the potential to turn a triumphant moment of seeing Ms. Harris in the White House into something more bittersweet for many black women.
“The governor must recognize that California supported a black woman and he must meet this moment,” said Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, who also helped push for the selection of Ms. Harris as vice -President. “It’s about recognizing that black women at large are essential as organizers and legislators. 2020 is not the time for him to turn his back on black women.
After California Secretary of State Alex Padilla became the lead candidate in recent weeks, activists, including Ms Allison, grew increasingly frustrated. Dozens of local and national officials raised their voices and wrote a letter to the governor, urging him to nominate either Congresswoman Barbara Lee or Congresswoman Karen Bass.
“No constituency is more committed and trusted to the Democratic Party than African American women,” the letter read. “They deserve the right to vote and direct representation in the United States Senate.”
Gender dynamics are also an important consideration for Mr Newsom, who has long tried to perfect his feminist credentials. For decades California has elected two female senators, and women’s groups have suggested it would be unfair for Ms. Harris’ seat to be handed over to a man.
Another sign of the complexity of the moment for Democrats in California is that, even though they are fighting for a Senate seat, black and Latino activists are together pushing for Dianne Feinstein’s resignation, citing her age and apparent comfort with some Republicans. (A New Yorker article published this month raised pointed questions about his mental acuity and short-term memory, and Ms Feinstein subsequently defended herself.) Ms Feinstein said she believed Mr. Padilla is expected to be appointed to Ms Harris’ seat, a position that has prompted some to suggest that she should step down if she is so determined that Mr Padilla take office. Ms Feinstein herself easily defeated Kevin de León, former Democratic leader of the California State Senate, during his re-election campaign in 2016.
“Everything she thinks she has in this seat – no,” Molly Watson said, from the progressive group Courage California. “To have a man in this position is really a slap in the face, and it doesn’t represent what we voted for in this office either.”
Ms Allison echoed calls for Ms Feinstein’s resignation, saying “now is the time to step back and make room for those who represent a large part of the state”.
In many ways, the explicit advocacy in California and Washington is learning from the successful campaign for Mr. Biden to choose a black woman as his running mate. This summer, hundreds of women and organizations went to great lengths, coordinating their efforts through daily phone calls and strategy sessions.
The efforts of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also reflect the increase in the number and power of Latinos in Congress. The caucus has met regularly with dozens of Latin American organizations and sought to unify their message, focusing on candidates they believe have a serious chance of being chosen for the cabinet.
The pressure for representation today, both nationally and in California, is more aggressive and direct than it has been in the past. This in part reflects that Democrats haven’t had that kind of power for over a decade – and that demographics have changed dramatically during that time.
“We have said that one of our goals is to see the face of America in the cabinet,” said Joaquin Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who aggressively lobbied for five Latino cabinet members. , including at least one Latina. women. “Our population and importance have increased. People don’t want to settle for less. “
After the Hispanic caucus met with members of the Transition Team last week, civil rights leaders, including Reverend Al Sharpton, met with Mr. Biden himself last week to demand greater inclusion of black candidates in the cabinet.
“We’re going in the right direction, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” Sharpton said in an interview. Mr Sharpton also joined the call for a black woman to replace Ms Harris as well, but said he was hesitant to pit black leaders against Latinos. “I’m very concerned about this – we don’t want it to get ugly.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Asian-Pacific American Caucus, also expressed repeated frustrations with Biden’s transition team.
“We are shocked because there is a great possibility for the first time in 20 years that there is no AAPI in the cabinet,” Ms. Chu said. “What is different this time is that we feel that our voice is not being heard.”
After intensive lobbying, Mr Biden last week appointed Congresswoman Deb Haaland as head of the Home Office, the first time a Native American has been appointed to cabinet.
In California, for the most part, political organizers and activists have avoided direct confrontation with Mr. Newsom.
But both sides have made it clear that they will not easily forgive Mr Newsom if he ignores their pleas.
“I’m really disappointed,” said MP Shirley Weber, one of Ms. Lee and Ms. Bass’s main supporters. “These numbers are so stark and you can’t say we don’t need more black women. I would have liked to have expected more from my Latino colleagues. And some Latin American leaders have expressed support in recent days for the appointment of a black woman, including Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers.
Last week, Alberto Retana, chief executive of Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles-based group that Ms Bass started in the wake of the crack epidemic in the early 1990s, organized a petition which was handed over to Mr. Newsom Friday. .
“As leaders of the Latinx community, we must lead with our values, not with our demographics,” the group wrote in the letter. “It is imperative for a multiracial democracy that we center this decision on advancing racial, gender and social justice. This will be accomplished by appointing a progressive black woman.