By Alberto Garcia
The election of Joe Biden as President set into motion a series of events that may lead to several political appointments and at least one special election in San Diego.
When Joe Biden won the election, his running mate Kamala Harris became Vice-President-Elect.
Harris is currently one of California’s two US Senators and will vacate that seat when she is sworn-in as VP on January 20th. California is one of 37 states that allow the Governor to fill vacant US Senate seats; in 13 states a special election must be called to fill the vacancy.
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he will appoint current California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the remaining two years of Harris’ six-year term. The appointment does not require any additional approval or confirmation. Padilla could take office as soon as January 20th.
Padilla, 47, has been Secretary of State since 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. Born and raised in Pacoima in East LA, Padilla earned a mechanical engineering degree from MIT, one of the most prestigious technical universities in the country.
Before his election as Secretary of State, Padilla was elected to the California State Senate and, before that, to the Los Angeles City Council where he was the youngest Council president in LA history.
Padilla will now be the first Latino to ever represent California in the US Senate.
Newsom faced pressure from both Latino leaders who called on him to appoint a Latinx candidate given the outsized influence of California’s largest minority group, and the African-American community that wanted to replace Harris with another African-American woman.
But Padilla’s appointment will also leave a vacancy at the office of Secretary of State. Just a few hours after announcing Padilla’s selection, Governor Newsom said he will appoint San Diego State Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber to replace Padilla. That appointment must be confirmed by both the Assembly and Senate in Sacramento.
Dr. Weber will be the first African-American in California history to hold that Constitutional office.
A longtime college professor and former San Diego School Board member, Dr. Weber has served in the Assembly since 2012 where she has represented the areas of Bonita, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City and San Diego. Dr. Weber earned her BA, MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.
But Weber’s appointment will then leave a vacancy in her Assembly seat where she was recently re-elected last month. A vacancy in an Assembly seat can only be filled by a special election. The Governor must call a special election within 14 days of the vacancy, and the election must take place between 126 and 140 days after it is called.
The special election to fill Weber’s vacancy, which will not become official until she is sworn in as Secretary of State sometime after Padilla is sworn in as Senator, is already drawing candidates’ attention, and leading to speculation as to who will run.
Georgette Gomez, the former San Diego City Councilmember that last month gave up her seat after she lost her campaign for Congress against Sarah Jacobs, is rumored to be looking at the seat. Ammar Campa-Najjar, who ran twice for Congress in the East County seat vacated by disgraced Congressman Duncan Hunter, is also rumored to be considering a run.
Special elections can be won outright in the first election if a candidate garners 50% plus one vote, and, if not, a runoff between the two highest voter-getters would advance to a runoff. Given the timing of the vacancies and appointments, the special election would be sometime in May or June 2021.
Another vacancy that may occur in California after Biden’s swearing-in could be that of California Attorney General.
President-Elect Biden has named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, but that requires confirmation by the US Senate, which could be difficult to get past the Senate if Republicans win both seats up for election in Georgia on January 3rd. If Becerra is confirmed by the US Senate, Governor Newsom would have another statewide office to fill.
A vacancy in the Attorney General’s office would also be filled by the Governor with the confirmation of both the State Senate and Assembly.
Several prominent politicians have been rumored to be potential appointees, including San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher. The Attorney General must be a lawyer; Gonzalez-Fletcher earned her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a member of the California Bar Association.
Joe Biden has not yet announced all of his nominations for Cabinet secretaries and other positions he must fill in the new administration, so other California politicians could be selected and leave more vacancies to be filled by Governor appointment or special election.