In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to announce who will fill vice president-elect Kamala Harris’ Senate seat, and he needs to do it quickly.

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By Darry Sragow, Special to CalMatters

Darry Sragow is the publisher of California Target Book, a non-partisan toolbox for California political professionals, darry@californiatargetbook.com. 

Now that the Electoral College has confirmed that our Sen. Kamala Harris will be the next vice president of the United States, Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to announce his decision for who will fill that seat.

Objectively, without arguing for a specific outcome, it appears the governor has three choices:

First, he can name a replacement who will serve until the 2022 election and run for reelection to a full term. There is enough genuine political talent in California to fill a couple of dozen seats in the U.S. Senate. The longer he ponders his options, the entreaties of various candidates and their supporters will become louder and more intense, unbearably so.

The incredible diversity of our state’s population and voters and leadership means that Newsom’s choice will please at least one, possibly some constituencies, but disappoint or anger others.  But he is unlikely to find a qualified candidate who is a woman, African American, Latino or Latina, Asian, a member of the LGBTQ community and who has homes in Northern and Southern California. The longer he keeps this opening in play, the more he is doing himself a disservice.  

Alternatively, if he is having a difficult time making a choice at a time when there are plenty of other critical matters on his plate, first and foremost the pandemic, he could fill the opening by appointing a placeholder, someone eminently qualified to represent our nation state in the U.S. Senate but who commits to not run in 2022.  

It would not take long to assemble a prospect list of prominent former office holders and educational and community leaders who would serve as an interim. Without taking sides, it is implausible not to mention the name of one person who would instantly step into a prominent role in the Senate, and who, presumably, would be honored to cap off an illustrious career by serving California in the nation’s capital. That, of course, is Jerry Brown.

The remaining possibility is that Newsom could appoint himself to fill the vacancy. As improbable as that sounds, it is, as they say, so crazy it just might work.  

Let’s face it: 2021 is shaping up to be a historically turbulent year in California. Providing a strong and knowledgeable voice for our state at the national level surely has appeal, all the more so compared with contemplating the distraction of a possible recall effort touted by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. 

Besides, there is another high level appointment to make, replacing Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and, pending developments, at least one more statewide office may become vacant. The governor has been reminded that when he exercises the power to make an appointment it nets him one friend and many more detractors.

He needs to choose one of these options, and he needs to do it quickly.

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