Ms. Lee, on Twitter, congratulated Mr. Padilla as “a skilled legislator and a steadfast advocate for justice.” “I believe he will be a powerful voice in the Senate for those who continue to be denied our country’s promise of equality,” she said.
Nathalies Rayes, president and chief executive of the Latino Victory Fund, which had campaigned for Mr. Padilla, called the appointment “a long-overdue milestone for the Latino community” and a “bold step towards having a Senate that looks like the communities it serves.” He added, “His appointment will not only increase Latino representation in the Senate, but it will also open the door for future generations of Latino leaders.”
California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, endorsed Mr. Padilla, who had worked in her field office early in his career. But other interest groups wanted Ms. Feinstein herself to step down — a call that gained traction after a New Yorker article this month suggested that Ms. Feinstein, 87, was experiencing cognitive decline.
The elevation of Mr. Padilla leaves Mr. Newsom with a vacancy in the secretary of state’s office, a potential consolation prize for at least one disappointed contender. He will also have to appoint a new attorney general if the Senate confirms Xavier Becerra’s nomination as Mr. Biden’s secretary of health and human services.
The attorney general post, in particular, has in recent years served as a springboard for higher office; besides Mr. Becerra, recent attorneys general include Ms. Harris and California’s previous governor, Jerry Brown.
Alex Vassar, a legislative historian at the California State Library, said the last California governor to fill three statewide offices was Earl Warren, who in December 1952 and January 1953 appointed a new senator, a state controller and a member of the state Board of Equalization. Pat Brown also made three appointments in 1964 and 1965, Mr. Vassar said, but one was simply to speed up an incoming senator’s arrival.
In sending Mr. Padilla to the Senate, Mr. Newsom chose a Democrat from his own generation who stood by the governor and shored up his Latino support in several critical races. He also chose an experienced candidate who has twice been elected statewide and whose work since 2014 has considerably expanded the ease of voting in California and the size of the electorate.