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Governor Newsom Selects Political Operative Laphonza Butler to Replace Sen. Feinstein
Laphonza Butler previously worked at the campaign consulting firm that elected Gavin Newsom as governor, and served corporate clients such as AirBnB, Uber and PG&E.
Governor Gavin Newsom is appointing EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill the seat of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who passed away last Friday.
Newsom has now received the opportunity to appoint both of California’s senators, the attorney general, and the secretary of state. The decision to elevate Butler, a former union official and political consultant, is a move that keeps close allies in charge of key government offices.
Butler has worked for various political interests, including as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign and for nearly a decade as leader of the SEIU in Los Angeles and statewide.
But her direct ties to Newsom include years as a consultant at SCRB Strategies, the consulting firm that has long managed Gavin Newsom’s political campaigns.
The firm, now known as Bearstar Strategies, is the most influential among the small number of operatives that dominate California politics. The company not only helped elect Gov. Jerry Brown, Newsom’s predecessor, but also served as the main consultants for Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Alex Padilla, whom Newsom also appointed to office.
During Butler’s time at SCRB Strategies, the firm was tapped by Uber to help defeat efforts to allow drivers to win legal status to make them eligible for the minimum wage and to join labor unions. Lobbying disclosures show Uber paid the firm over $185,000.
The Uber campaign pitched Butler against her former allies in organized labor, including the SEIU. The gig industry worked closely with former labor organizers in its ultimately successful push to unwind efforts to provide drivers with enhanced rights.
PG&E also retained SCRB Strategies, at a time when the utility firm was battling state regulators over upgrades necessary to prevent wildfires and the fallout over a gas explosion that killed 8 and injured 58 residents in San Bruno, California. The company paid Butler's firm $1.1 million, records show.
After working at SCRB Strategies, Butler left in 2020 to serve as the North American Policy Director of AirBnB, at which she oversaw the company’s lobbying team in Washington, D.C. She worked for the company for a year before joining Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic women.
Newsom faced angry critics within some left-wing circles who demanded that he select a Black woman for Sen. Feinstein’s seat. Butler, a Black lesbian, appears to reflect an effort by the governor to answer those critics. Butler lives in Maryland, according to her Emily’s List biography.
Democrats hold a thin 51-49 majority in the Senate and are expected to swear in Butler as soon as this week. It remains unclear if she will run for reelection. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff are already vying for the Democratic nomination, a race that will be reshaped if Butler seeks a full term.
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