June 19, 2024

California Senator Dianne Feinstein died on Sept. 29 after 30 years of serving in the U.S. Senate. Feinstein was the first woman to serve on the California Senate. She tended to focus her efforts on gun safety, women’s rights, investigating CIA torture and improving the environment. Some of her most well-known accomplishments were leading the investigation that outlawed enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA and writing the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. 

After her death, many candidates are vying for her spot in the 2024 election. Surprising much of the California population Gov. Newsom chose Laphonza Butler, former president of Emily’s List, a political action committee, to act as interim senator until the upcoming election. Part of what makes this decision surprising is that Butler hasn’t lived in California for two years, having moved to Maryland in 2021 to become president of Emily’s List. 

According to Erick Hernandez, sophomore political science major, this recent shift has caused people to reexamine the existing terms for senators. 

“Senator Feinstein died at a very old age for a serving congressman, and her death has sparked a conversation around term limits for serving officials,” Hernandez said. “I doubt we’ll get another case of this type of appointment. If another senator dies in office, the governor will appoint one per their duty. Their appointment will reveal a lot about their personal and political aspirations. The fact that Newsom chose a candidate not popular among California voters is a detail that should be taken into account.”

Instead of turning to the primary candidates — Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff — Newsom chose someone who has shown no previous interest in running for the position. Many wondered whether Butler’s time as interim senator would prompt her to run for the position again in March. 

“On one hand, being in the post and then running as a candidate for it can be an advantage — name recognition,” said Dr. Beth Groves, associate professor of public administration. “However, it could also prove to be a detriment. The other candidates have not done the job; therefore, they can run on what they intend to do.  The appointed person serving in the job has an actual track record of how she is handling the responsibility.  Depending on the voter’s opinion of how she is doing will influence their vote.”  

Dr. Chris Porter, associate professor of political science, stated that Newsom may have done this to avoid showing favoritism to any of the candidates. 

“Gov. Newsom very clearly did not want to be seen as tipping the scales in the election,” Porter said. “The best way to avoid doing that is to appoint someone who was not a candidate in the election nor had expressed a desire to run prior to the appointment. If he had chosen one of the current primary candidates, then he would be expressing a clear preference in the election,” Porter said. 

Nathan Noriega, freshman political science major, said the decision might also result from Newson trying to cater to the Democratic Party, which makes up the majority of California voters.

“Newsom was under a lot of pressure to find a replacement candidate due to Feinstein’s untimely death,” Noriega said. “He looked for a candidate that would fit the Democratic agenda of diversity and cater to the lobbyists. It was a political decision made to garner support from minority voters.”

However, Butler recently revealed in a statement that she would not seek another term as senator. Because of this, citizens are again focusing on the primary candidates. Hernandez claimed that the seat change may prove “inconsequential” partly because all three candidates were of the same party as the late Feinstein. 

Regardless, voters can research each candidate to understand their views and qualifications and use that information to vote for who they believe is the best candidate in March 2024.

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