By Matthew Reagan
If the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket wins the White House in November, the victory could change the course of politics in Northeast Los Angeles.
That’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint a replacement for Senator Harris in the United States Senate – and at present, at least five of the names being floated are politicians who represent NELA or have represented NELA in the past. The appointment of any one of them to Harris’s seat would elevate NELA’s political profile while creating an opportunity for someone else to fill the vacancy left by the person who gets the nod.
The NELA contenders are Latinx and two of them are women. These are important characteristics because the governor will be under pressure to appoint someone who, like Harris, brings diversity to the predominantly white, predominantly male U.S. Senate. The pressure to name a Latinx may be especially pronounced because California has never had a Latinx U.S. Senator.
Another important consideration is geography. By appointing someone from NELA, the governor could shore up his support in Southern California, which has not sent a politician to the U.S. Senate since John Seymour of Orange County was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson in 1992.
Here are some of the NELA contenders:
Xavier Becerra — California Attorney General
Before Xavier Becerra, 62, succeeded Kamala Harris as California Attorney General in 2018, he represented NELA in Congress for 24 years (1993 to 2017), serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for California’s 34th congressional district.
Given his robust experience, solid reputation and close relationship with the governor, Becerra is considered a favorite among state office holders to be tapped for the U.S. Senate. If that happens, Newsom would appoint a new Attorney General to finish Becerra’s term through 2022. Assuming Becerra would have a hand in naming his successor, it stands to reason that his political allies in L.A. could benefit from his recommendation.
Hilda Solis — Supervisor, L.A. County Board of Supervisors, 1st District
Since 2014, Hilda Solis, 62, has represented NELA on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, where she is one of five elected officials whose far reaching powers have earned them the nickname “the five kings.”
Her experience also includes powerful national and state offices, including Secretary of Labor during the Obama administration (2009 to 2013), Member of Congress representing much of the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S. House of Representatives (2001 to 2009) and state Senator (1994 to 2001). Along the way, Solis has made history: She was the first Latina to serve in a president’s cabinet and to be elected to the state Senate.
If Solis got the U.S. Senate appointment, Newsom would pick a replacement to fill her seat on the Board of Supervisors through the end of 2022.
Jimmy Gomez — Member of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives, California congressional district 34
A resident of Eagle Rock, Jimmy Gomez, 45, has represented NELA in Congress since 2017, serving on key committees in charge of taxes and government oversight. Before going to Washington, Gomez represented NELA in the state Assembly (2012 to 2017). In both Congress and the state Assembly, Gomez has been a leader or member of legislative blocs to promote Latinx issues and interests.
If Gomez wins reelection to the House in November (he is favored) and is then appointed as U.S. Senator, Newsom would call a special election to fill his House seat.
Kevin de León — Councilmember-elect, L.A. City Council, District 14
Kevin de León, 53, dominated the race this year to represent Eagle Rock and other parts of CD 14 on the L.A. City Council; he is set to take office on October 15.
His experience includes 12 years representing NELA neighborhoods and other areas in the state Assembly and state Senate, where he rose to Senate leader before leaving in 2018, shortly before terming out, to run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein. Though unsuccessful, De León’s race against Feinstein increased his political visibility.
If De León were appointed U.S. Senator, the city charter would let the City Council appoint a replacement until a special election could be held. By rule, the appointee could serve until December 2022 before a special election would be mandated.
Maria Elena Durazo — California State Senator, 24th district
Maria Elena Durazo, 67, has represented California’s 24th Senate district, which includes NELA, since 2018. Her election to the state Senate was her first foray into electoral politics after a high-profile career as a labor union official. Most notably, she was the first woman to lead the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (2006 through 2014). She has also served on the Executive Council of the National AFL-CIO, in prominent positions within the Democratic party and on many civic commissions and boards.
If Durazo were appointed U.S. Senator, a special election would be called by the Governor to fill her seat in the state Senate.
Politicians with ties to NELA are part of a deep political talent pool for the Governor to draw from if he gets to choose the next U.S. Senator from California. Other names that have been floated include California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, U.S. Congressmember Karen Bass of South L.A., Mayor Eric Garcetti of L.A. and Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach.