BY THE SACRAMENTO BEE EDITORIAL BOARD DECEMBER 04, 2020 – Nearly 2,000 Americans have served as United States Senators. As of today, 1,928 of them have been men. Only 57 of them have been women.
This striking disparity provides a clear mandate for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he considers a replacement for Sen. Kamala D. Harris, who will become vice president of the United States in January.
Without question, Newsom should appoint a woman to Harris’ seat. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate the historic injustices that have deprived women of their equal rights throughout history — and to rob the nation of women’s leadership at a time when we need it most.
Our nation was founded 244 years ago, but women did not win the right to vote until 100 years ago. Two years after Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, 87-year-old Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia became the first woman to be sworn in as a U.S. Senator.
She served for 24 hours in November 1922. That’s because her appointment was merely a gimmick by Georgia Gov. Thomas Hardwick to curry favor with women voters and bolster his own chance of winning the seat, which had become vacant after Sen. Thomas Watson died suddenly.
Some argue, convincingly, that Newsom must replace Harris with a Black woman.
“There’s no way that Gavin Newsom should allow anyone other than a Black woman to fill the seat of Harris, who’s only the second Black woman in the history of the U.S. Senate,” former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told Politico’s Carla Marinucci. “There should be no contest.”
“To demonstrate their stated commitment to Black women, the Democratic Party and Gov. Gavin Newsom should appoint a Black woman to fill Harris’ Senate seat,” wrote Dr. Chaya Crowder in The Sacramento Bee. “During this presidential election, Black women played pivotal roles in key states like Georgia where Black women, including Stacey Abrams, Helen Butler, Deborah Scott, Tamieka Atkins and Nse Ufot, registered 800,000 new Georgia voters.”
Crowder named several women who could fill the slot, including Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Karen Bass.
Newsom is also under intense pressure to make history by appointing California’s first Latino or Latina senator. In a Bee editorial urging Newsom to pick a Latino or Latina, Luis Alejo and Richard Polanco listed many women, including State Senator Maria Elena Durazo and former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
California is long overdue for a senator who reflects nearly 40% of the state’s population, but it’s important to remember that California voters elected a woman of Black and Indian heritage to the seat.
We don’t envy Newsom’s dilemma in having to choose between appointing the second Black woman senator or appointing the first Latina senator in California history. One part of his equation, however, seems simple enough. Roughly 97% of American senators have been men. Since 1850, 93% of California’s senators have been men. These numbers represent a shameful legacy of discrimination.
“If people knew that Cuba, China, Iraq and Afghanistan have more women in government than the United States of America, that would get some people upset,” Newsom said during an interview in “Miss Representation,” a 2011 documentary directed by his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
In 2020, Gov. Newsom must turn his words into action by appointing a woman to replace Kamala Harris in the Senate.