Nation’s next senator will have roots in Mississippi. California governor appoints Magnolia native to replace Sen. Feinstein.

Published 8:26 am Monday, October 2, 2023

When sworn in, the nation’s newest senator will have roots planted in Mississippi soil.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign, to fill the U.S. Senate seat made vacant by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Butler is a native of Magnolia, Mississippi. According to the New York Times, Butler’s father died when she was 16 years old. Butler’s mother then took care of the family, working numerous jobs, including as a security guard, gas station cashier, home-care worker and teaching assistant.

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After graduating from South Pike High School, Butler attended Jackson State University.

In choosing Butler on Sunday, Newsom fulfilled his pledge to appoint a Black woman if Feinstein’s seat became open. However, he had been facing pressure from some Black politicians and advocacy groups to select Barbara Lee, a prominent Black congresswoman who is already running for the seat.

Butler will be the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the chamber. She and her partner, Neneki Lee, have a daughter.

Newsom said in a statement that the priorities Feinstein fought for in Congress — reproductive freedom, equal protection and safety from gun violence — were under assault in the nation. “Laphonza will carry the baton left by Sen. Feinstein (and) continue to break glass ceilings and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.,” he said.