By Claudia Medina | Special for CalMatters
Come January, California’s own Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president of the United States. Her transition to the White House will also leave a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has an important responsibility to fill that seat.
He should recognize the importance of the Latino community to California and the nation by appointing the first Latino or Latina senator from our state.
California is home to 15 million Latinos, who account for roughly 40% of the population. A quarter of the state’s small businesses are Latino-owned; they serve as a critical backbone to the state economy, generating approximately $100 billion annually. Half of all students enrolled in the state’s K-12 public schools are Latino, proving that we’re not just California’s present – we’re also its future.
And yet, not once in the state’s 170-year history has there ever been a Latino U.S. senator.
Today, there are 60 million Latinos living in the United States putting us at 18.5% of the population. But currently, only four Latinos are serving in the U.S. Senate. Ben Ray Lujan’s recent win to serve as the U.S. senator representing New Mexico will make him the fifth Latino to serve in this important deliberative body.
Although Latinos in the Senate will continue to remain underrepresented, California can do its part in building a diverse and inclusive democracy by appointing the sixth Latino senator.
The significance of the moment only makes this appointment necessary and urgent. Our nation and state are still in the grip of a global pandemic. Now more than ever, we need leaders in Congress who have a deep understanding of the issues facing our community.
In Alameda County, where I serve as a family and community engagement coordinator within the local public-school district, Latinos make up half of all COVID-19 cases, despite accounting only for 22% of the county’s population. I have witnessed firsthand the challenges facing students and their families to access food, social services and supports to weather these difficult times.
And across this state, Latinos account for a whopping 61% of all COVID-19 cases, and across the U.S., they are three times more likely to become infected and nearly twice as likely to die from the coronavirus than white people.
We need leaders who come from our community, who have lived our issues and who will accurately represent us as the next Congress takes up legislation on COVID-19, the economy and more.
In 2020, Latinos have proven we are a resilient force. Our votes overturned Senate seats in Arizona and Colorado and even added another Latino to the U.S. Senate from New Mexico.
We deserve fair and proportional representation in the halls of power. That power now rests on Newsom, and it’s time he seizes this moment to make history for our state. Appoint a Latino or Latina to the U.S. Senate.
Claudia Medina is the founding member of the Latino Community Foundation’s East Bay Latina Giving Circle. She wrote this column for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.