When Joe Biden announces his pick for Vice President, conventional wisdom suggests it’s most likely to be Kamala Harris.
This means California could have a vacancy for one of its U.S. Senate seats. The vacancy would be filled not by a vote of the people, but by Gavin Newsom appointing whoever he’d like – including himself.
Nine previous Governors have named themselves to open Senate seats (in practice, usually resigning on condition their successor appoint them). Dan Walters writes in CalMatters this might be Newsom’s plan. It’s plausible for three reasons.
First, Newsom has desperately tried to insert himself into the national political conversation since taking office, including a bizarre Mario Kart animation of him racing the President.
Second, Newsom’s approval rating as Governor is plummeting and he might be looking for the nearest exit. This would also shield him from the ongoing recall, as Senators can’t be recalled.
Third, my bill to take this appointment power away from the Governor was just killed by Newsom’s allies in the Legislature.
I authored AB 2194, to assure our Senators are always chosen by California voters. It’s an idea that’s even been endorsed by the New York Times, which wrote that “filling vacant Senate seats through elections would replace high-level deal-making and arbitrary exercises of authority with democracy.”
But in the California Legislature, which gets more undemocratic every year, my bill was killed on a party-line vote in 2018. This year, it was denied a hearing altogether.
Illinois has the same undemocratic arrangement as California, and when Rod Blagojevich got to appoint a replacement for Barack Obama, he auctioned off the seat, saying “I’ve got this thing and it’s f***ing golden.” He went to prison.
Other Governors have appointed their spouses or children. After Lisa Murkowksi was given a Senate seat by her father, Alaska voters passed an initiative to do away with appointments, though Murkowski remains in the Senate to this day.
If Biden does select Kamala Harris on Monday, I’ll be calling for an emergency hearing to remove Newsom’s appointment power.
Letting Gavin Newsom choose our next Senator – whether claiming the seat himself or giving it to a political ally – would disenfranchise California voters in a profound way.
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