CA Senate: Alex Padilla (D)
Alex Padilla, California’s then-secretary of state, was appointed to fill the Senate seat held by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in late December 2020.
Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s selection of Padilla, a longtime friend and political ally, ended months of jockeying for the appointment among Democratic factions across the state.
It also made Padilla the first Latino senator from California, where Latinos are about 40% of the population.
In an emblematic passing of the torch, Harris herself swore Padilla into his new position on the afternoon of Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
Because he was appointed merely to fill out what remained of Harris’ term, he will have to run for a full term in 2022.
Padilla, 47, is the son of Mexican-born immigrants who settled in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley when he was still a child. His father was a short-order cook and his mother a housekeeper, but their middle son was determined to make a better life for himself and for them.
After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, he applied to and was accepted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, money for college was tight, and to make ends meet, he was to work his way through school with a series of janitorial jobs and work-study programs.
His dream upon graduating in 1994 was to be an aerospace engineer. Unfortunately for Padilla, a wave of anti-immigrant fervor was then just reaching its peak.
Unable to find full time work in the profession for which he trained, Padilla took a part-time summer job helping Latino high school students prepare for college.
He also got involved in opposing Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that would have barred undocumented immigrants from public services including schools and nonemergency health care.
With that, the young man who readily admitted he’d never dreamed of being involved in politics, suddenly found himself working as a community organizer. That led to Padillo’s running two legislative campaigns for Latino candidates in Los Angeles and to his securing a job as a staff in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s field office.
In 1999, Padilla ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council and won, at the age of 26. By 2001, he was the council’s youngest president.
He then went on to serve two terms in the state Senate and two years as secretary of state.
It was in 2003 that Padilla met Newsom, who was then running for mayor of San Francisco. The two hit it off, and Padilla happily introduced his to influential people in the Latino committee. Later, Padillo would run Newsom’s first campaign for governor, a campaign that ended when former Gov. Jerry Brown entered the race.
In 2018, Padilla stood by Newson again, endorsing him early in a crowded field. This time Newsom and Padilla won, the former becoming governor, while the latter because secretary of states.
Padilla promised to register a million new California voters; the state has added more than four million as a result of legislation he backed that registers Californians to vote when they get their driver’s license.
As a state legislator, Padilla also supported universal health care, reproductive choice, expanding green manufacturing and solar power, and laws that tracked stolen guns and prevented felons from possessing body armor.
When Newsom told him Padilla he was the choice to replace Harris, Padilla described himself as “honored and humbled.”
He also vowed “to work each and every day” to honor that trust bestowed on him and to “deliver for California.”
A father of three, Padilla and his wife, Angela, live in the San Fernando Valley.