By Michele Siqueiros and Sonja Diaz
The lobbying for California’s U.S. Senate seat began before election night in November and was filled with speculation, political positioning and tons of media attention.
Some very good friends throughout California felt that only a woman should fill the Senate seat. We understand them. Some even closer friends felt that only a Black woman should fill the seat. We understand them. And of course, many of our friends felt that Latinos were long overdue for a top tier appointment in a state that is 40% Latino. We understand them.
Representation matters. All communities deserve a seat at the table. And as feminists, advocates, Latinas and Californians, we believe Gov. Gavin Newsom made excellent choices in naming Secretary of State Alex Padilla as the next U.S. Senator from California and San Diego Assemblymember Shirley Weber as our next Secretary of State.
But these appointments, and the excitement they’ve engendered, not only point to the value of voters being able to see themselves in their elected officials, but the type of engagement and mobilization that is possible when diverse candidates are put forward. It also points to what is at stake should we fail to recognize just how much people want more diversity and representation in the people they elect to govern them.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, we have seen Americans working across communities to support each other, recognizing Black Lives Matter, that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional and racist, that immigrants have always made America great, that women’s rights are human rights and that the ideals of democracy are worth fighting for, every single day.
In fact, it was the most diverse coalition across America that gave President-elect Joe Biden the highest seat in the land and are now pushing him to create the most diverse cabinet in the history of the presidency.
Even as we recognize the critical need for representation, our younger peers — who have grown up in an even more diverse America than us — remind us that we can and should care about multiple interests and agendas at the same time. We can celebrate the historic appointment of Padilla as the first Latino U.S. Senator and demand representation for other communities as well.
Political powerbrokers have failed to disrupt business as usual and support more diverse candidates, leaving us with a democracy in peril, and a tired and ill-timed narrative about Black and Brown conflict.
Today’s winning coalition of voters will continue to shape American politics. Newsom’s dual appointments met their unapologetic expectations that our elected officials better reflect the country’s racial and ethnic diversity.
The appointment of Padilla, who will now serve in the U.S. Senate alongside white multi-millionaires and address failed policies that have left Black and Latino families struggling to overcome a deadly pandemic that threatens their health and their wealth, brings consolation to frontline communities. The selection of Weber as Secretary of State means she will be the first Black woman election administrator in state history and brings with her a wealth of experience fighting for civil rights and social justice.
We look forward to the time when it will no longer be historic or breaking news to name the “first” for any substantive office because our preeminent political posts will start to reflect the new majority. Now the attention on California must shift to Georgia and then to Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania so that diverse candidates are well-supported during the 2022 midterms.
Until then, we will celebrate with great pride the appointment of Black and Brown leaders from Southern California.
Michele Siqueiros is president of the Campaign for College Opportunity and a higher education advocate. Sonja Diaz is founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. They wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.