(WB) In a widely anticipated move to fill the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the departing Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he has chosen the state’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla.

Padilla and Newsom have had a long working relationship as elected officials in the Golden State. He will be the first Latino senator to represent California, the nation’s most populous state, which also has the largest Latino population in the nation.

“The son of Mexican immigrants — a cook and house cleaner — Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the State Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s Secretary of State. Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol as California’s next United States Senator, the first Latino to hold this office,” said Newsom in a statement.

“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a Senator for all Californians,” the governor added.

Padilla has a strong track record as an elected official championing LGBT equality. He publicly campaigned against Proposition 8 which called for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. As a former state senator, he strongly supported the School Success and Opportunities Act, which protects transgender students and allows them to fully participate in school, and he earned a 100% Equality rating from Equality California in regard to his voting record when he served as a state senator.

This past August Padilla worked alongside the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization Drag Out The Vote, which works with drag performers to promote participation in democracy, naming drag performers as ambassadors to disseminate accurate and timely election information.

He also collaborated with the Equality California Institute last Spring in a state-wide effort to ensure transgender Californian’s voting rights were not violated in the early primary and later general election polling.

“Secretary Padilla has been a true ally to the LGBTQ+ community throughout his career and an exceptional partner to Equality California. Earlier this year, Secretary Padilla worked with Equality California to ensure that transgender and gender-nonconforming Californians can vote free from discrimination or harassment. We couldn’t be prouder that a son of immigrants, a partner in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and a champion for free and fair elections — especially at a time like this — is headed to represent California in the United States Senate,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement.

Padilla was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on January 5, 2015 and was re-elected in 2018.

He has deep ties in Los Angeles growing up in the Latino majority area of Pacoima in the northeastern corner of the San Fernando Valley. After his graduation from San Fernando High School he won admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.

In 1994, after California voters passed Proposition 187, the sweeping anti-immigrant measure, his parents finally applied for citizenship and Padilla, now a recent MIT graduate, resolved to put an engineering career aside and dedicate his life to public service.

In his first run for elected office Padilla was elected to the Los Angeles City Council as a political outsider at the age of 26. Later, in 2001, Padilla’s LA city council colleagues elected him the youngest Council President in Los Angeles history. In 2006, he was elected to the State Senate to represent the more than 1 million people in the San Fernando Valley. 

Since taking office as Secretary of State, Padilla has worked to make California’s elections more accessible and inclusive, while fighting to protect the integrity of the state’s voting systems. In this last election Padilla oversaw the largest mail-in ballot effort in California history, a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 21 million ballots that were sent to the state’s registered voters.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement released by Newsom’s office.

“From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

Assemblymember Evan Low, Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, in an emailed statement on the appointment of Secretary Alex Padilla to U.S. Senate noted:

“The LGBTQ Caucus is thrilled with the governor’s decision to appoint Secretary Padilla to the U.S. Senate. During his time as California’s Secretary of State, Alex Padilla has passionately fought to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming voters’ access to the ballot box, supported same-sex marriage and championed inclusion by hiring a staff that represents California’s incredible diversity. Secretary Padilla is a worthy successor to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and we are certain he will represent our great state with honor and integrity. The LGBTQ Caucus cannot wait to continue working with him on issues affecting our community in the years to come.”

State Senator Scott Wiener, former chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus tweeted Tuesday upon learning of Newsom’s decision:

“Congratulations @AlexPadilla4CA on your appointment to the U.S. Senate – the first Latino California Senator ever. I know you’ll make California proud.”

California’s senior U. S. Senator, Diane Feinstein also weighed in on Twitter:

Sen Feinstein on Padilla