In addition to bringing sadness to the loss of a distinguished senator, the passing of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has created a political stir in California as people speculate about what will happen to her now-vacant Senate seat. A contested race was originally anticipated as a result of Feinstein’s decision to not run for reelection in 2024, but her departure adds an unexpected twist: Democratic governor Gavin Newsom will now have to handle the delicate political process of selecting Feinstein’s replacement.

Political Forces and Dynamics

The passing of Feinstein has changed California’s political climate, perhaps having an impact on the state’s highly anticipated Senate primary. Prominent Democratic lawmakers like Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff were already preparing for a close contest. With the government shutdown approaching, Newsom is under more pressure than ever to appoint someone to the Senate. Previously, he had been hesitant to do so after selecting Alex Padilla in 2020.

As the lone Black woman in the Senate, Padilla’s appointment by the governor to succeed Kamala Harris, a Latino man, was met with criticism. Barbara Lee’s possible candidacy was acknowledged when Newsom promised to nominate a Black woman in the event of future openings. Newsom’s latest remarks, though, seem to indicate that he may make a “interim appointment,” which would further muddie the political waters.

Barbara Lee’s Disapproval and Political Repercussions

Prominent Senate candidate Barbara Lee openly attacked Newsom for proposing a “interim appointment,” calling it token gesture. Lee voiced her worries, saying, “The governor’s comments have disturbed me. It is offensive to think that a Black woman should only be assigned as a caregiver in order to tick a box.” Many were taken aback by this unusual public censure, which caused Democratic operatives who were backing Lee’s candidacy to quit.

The critique highlights the conflict surrounding the nomination process, as supporters of Lee contend that an interim nomination would put her at a disadvantage to more seasoned applicants like Schiff and Porter. One major source of controversy has emerged around the governor’s unwillingness to intervene in the ongoing Democratic primary.

Political Consequences for California

The possible appointment might have wider ramifications for California politics as a whole as well as the Senate contest. The top two candidates, irrespective of their party, will move on to the main election under the “jungle primary” system. Given the state’s liberal inclination, this may pit two Democrats against one another in November. Furthermore, any appointment made by Newsom might have a domino effect, leaving more openings that would require filling.

A number of Black women have been mentioned as possible candidates, including non-profit executive Lateefah Simon, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, and California Secretary of State Shirley Weber. But most parties involved are centered on paying tribute to the late senator’s memory, so the political impact from her passing is still a touchy subject.