Updated Oct 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

What to know about Laphonza Butler, Emily’s List head replacing Sen. Feinstein

Laphonza Butler address a Biden-Harris campaign rally

Laphonza Butler address a Biden-Harris campaign rally on June 23 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Laphonza Butler is set to become California's newest senator, filling the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Why it matters: Butler will be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the Senate. She is also the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate, after Vice President Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said in the announcement.

  • "Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people," Newsom wrote on X.
  • Butler is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, per Politico.

The latest: Butler wrote on X Monday that she was "honored" to accept the position.

  • She said she would strive to honor Feinstein's legacy by "committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California."

Where has Butler worked?

Butler serves as the president of Emily's List, a national PAC that backs pro-choice Democratic women in politics.

  • She was appointed to the role in 2021, becoming the first woman of color and mother to lead Emily's List. During her tenure, she pushed the organization to support more nonwhite candidates and was a prolific fundraiser, the New York Times reported.
  • Her appointment to the Senate means she will step down from her position at Emily's List, Newsom's office said.
  • Prior to Emily's List, Butler worked as the director for public policy and campaigns at Airbnb, and served as an adviser for Harris' 2020 presidential campaign, per CNN.
  • Butler also spent more than a decade as the president of SEIU Local 2015, California's largest labor union, which represents nursing home and home-care workers.

What is her background?

Butler was raised in Magnolia, Mississippi in a working-class family.

  • Her father died when she was 16, after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Her mother worked a variety of jobs to support her and her two siblings, Newsom's announcement said.
  • She received a bachelor's degree in political science from HBCU Jackson State University in 2001.
  • Butler is married to Neneki Lee. The couple has an 8-year-old daughter, per the San Francisco Chronicle. Lee is the National Division Director for Public Services at SEIU.

Where does Butler fit in California's political landscape?

Feinstein's announcement earlier this year that she wouldn't seek reelection in 2024 set the stage for a competitive and crowded race for her seat.

  • Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Adam Schiff have all launched campaigns to fill Feinstein's seat in 2024. Porter and Schiff kicked off their bids prior to Feinstein's retirement announcement.
  • Butler's appointment fulfills Newsom's pledge to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein's seat if she didn't complete her full term.
  • Butler has not yet said whether she will run for a full term in 2024. The deadline to file paperwork for the race is Dec. 8, per AP.

Editor's note: This was updated with comment from Butler on her appointment.

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