US Sen. Butler won't seek full term

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday October 19, 2023
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U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler will not seek a full term. Photo: Via Governor Newsom's office
U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler will not seek a full term. Photo: Via Governor Newsom's office

Recently appointed Black lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-California) said Thursday that she would not seek a full term to replace the late senator Dianne Feinstein.

The New York Times reported that Butler had come to realize that serving in the Senate was "not the greatest use of my voice."

Butler, 44, was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom October 1 following the September 29 death of Feinstein (D), who was 90. Feinstein had announced in February that she would not seek reelection next year, and there is already a crowded field of candidates vying to replace her. Butler is the third Black woman to ever serve in the body.

She is also the third out woman to serve in the Senate. Both lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and bisexual Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona) are seeking reelection next year.

Butler tested positive for COVID and is absent from the Senate this week, media outlets reported. It was announced Tuesday that she would fill Feinstein's seat on the powerful Judiciary Committee that reviews appointments to the federal bench.

In a thread on X (formerly Twitter), Butler explained her decision.

"I've spent the past 16 days pursuing my own clarity - what kind of life I want to have, what kind of service I want to offer and what kind of voice I want to bring forward," she wrote. "After considering those questions I've decided not to run for a full term in the US Senate. Knowing you can win a campaign doesn't always mean you should run a campaign. I know this will be a surprise to many because traditionally we don't see those who have power let it go.

"It may not be the decision people expected but it's the right one for me," she added.

Butler, who lives in Maryland but also owns a home in California, stepped down from leading Emily's List, the organization that works to elect Democratic pro-choice women to public office. She's a former labor leader and advocate for women and working people, according to a statement from Newsom's office.

But in the days since her October 3 swearing in by Vice President Kamala Harris, Butler had come under some criticism for work she did for Uber. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Butler said she believed Uber drivers and other gig workers deserve the full benefits of employment but she did not specify what she did while working for the ride-hailing company.

According to the Times, Butler said she would be "the loudest, proudest champion of California" in the 383 days remaining in her term in office.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, praised Butler's appointment when Newsom announced it.

"Laphonza Butler is eminently qualified to represent California well in the United States Senate and we are thrilled to congratulate her," stated Tony Hoang, a gay man. "This historic appointment by Governor Newsom will give our LGBTQ+ community another voice in Congress at a time when our rights and freedoms are under attack across the country. We look forward to working with Laphonza as she steps into this new role and continues her lifelong fight for our shared values of equity, freedom and justice for all."

The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Butler's decision not to seek a full term.

In the meantime, three Democratic members of Congress — Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine, and Barbara Lee of Oakland — have been campaigning and earning endorsement nods for months. Lexi Reese, formerly an executive at Google and the HR platform Gusto, is running for the seat on the Democratic side. On Tuesday, Christina Pascucci, a Democrat and journalist who has spent more than a decade reporting for Los Angeles TV stations, announced she's running.

Lee, who is the only Black person among the major candidates, issued a statement.

"Senator Butler took on the enormous responsibility of filling an open Senate seat with grace, integrity, and a deep commitment to delivering for the people of California," Lee stated. "I look forward to continuing our work together for the remainder of her term."

On the Republican side, former baseball star Steve Garvey recently announced his campaign.

Updated, 10/19/23: This article has been updated with a statement from Congressmember Barbara Lee and comments from Sen. Butler.

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