Who is Laphonza Butler? The Senator Who Will Honor Dianne Feinstein’s Legacy

Laphonza Butler is an accomplished American politician, now serving as California’s United States senator following the passing of Dianne Feinstein. Notably, she is the first Black lesbian and openly LGBTQ individual to hold this Senate position in California. Her career trajectory includes notable roles as a labor leader and the president of EMILY’s List, a political action committee dedicated to supporting pro-choice Democratic women candidates.

Early Life and Education

Born in Magnolia, Mississippi, around 1978 or 1979, Butler grew up as the youngest of three siblings. Tragically, her father passed away due to heart disease when she was just 16. She attended South Pike High School in Magnolia and later pursued a bachelor’s degree in political science at Jackson State University.

Career and Activism

Butler’s career began as a union organizer, where she championed the rights of nurses, janitors, and hospital workers in various cities across the United States. In 2009, she relocated to California, eventually rising to become the president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 2015, the state’s largest labor union. Furthermore, she served as the president of the California SEIU State Council from 2013 to 2018.

As a labor leader, Butler actively advocated for policies such as raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy, and improving healthcare access for workers. She lent her support to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and campaigned for Kamala Harris in the 2020 presidential election. In 2016, she was among California’s electors who cast their votes for Clinton.

In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Butler as a regent of the University of California, a 12-year tenure during which she oversaw the governance and budget of the public university system. She resigned from this role in 2021.

Butler also worked as a partner at SCRB Strategies, a political consulting firm, where she advised companies like Uber and Airbnb on their interactions with organized labor and regulatory matters. In 2020, she transitioned to Airbnb, assuming the role of director of public policy and campaigns in North America.

In 2021, Butler became the third president of EMILY’s List, succeeding Stephanie Schriock. In this capacity, she became the first Black woman and mother to lead the organization, which has played a significant role in electing numerous women to public office since its establishment in 1985.

Senate Appointment

On October 1, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Butler’s selection to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the passing of Dianne Feinstein on September 27, 2023. Newsom praised Butler as a representative of the best qualities of California and someone who would continue breaking glass ceilings and advocating for all Californians in Washington D.C.

Butler accepted Newsom’s nomination with a commitment to honor Feinstein’s legacy by championing the rights of women, workers, unions, parents, and all Californians. She also vowed to defend the values Feinstein held dear, such as reproductive freedom, equal protection, and measures to address gun violence.

Butler will serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term, which runs until 2024. Her swearing-in as a senator is scheduled for October 2023. She will join Alex Padilla as California’s two senators, both appointed by Governor Newsom. It remains uncertain whether Butler will seek a full six-year term in the subsequent election, as several other Democrats, including Representatives Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff, have already announced their candidacies for the seat.

Conclusion

Laphonza Butler stands out as a groundbreaking politician, now making history as California’s newest senator. Her extensive track record in labor advocacy, Democratic Party engagement, and women’s rights activism positions her as a promising voice in the Senate. In this role, she will represent one of the nation’s most diverse and populous states.

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