Senator Diane Feinstein‘s elitist attitudes towards indigenous communities in California has many Tribes hoping that Governor Gavin Newsom will appoint an indigenous woman to succeed her — should her seat become vacant before her term is scheduled to end in 2024. For weeks, political operatives have rumored aloud that Feinstein is likely to retire in the early months of 2023 and Democrats have been vying behind the scenes to succeed her by gubernatorial appointment.
It is widely believed that Newsom has ambitions on the presidency, and any appointment to fill such a high profile vacancy in the United States Senate will impact his political brand going into the 2024 Democratic Party primary process. Conscious of his appeal to primary voters, who lean to the left of the party, Feinstein’s successor will likely be chosen with that in mind.
Many believe that Newsom is certain to nominate a woman — in light of Feinstein’s groundbreaking stature in the Senate, and his previous appointment of a man to fill the Senate vacancy left by Kamala Harris‘ election as Vice President. They argue that Newsom is most likely to nominate a diverse woman from a marginalized group or under-represented population who brings an identity-politics advantage to a looming primary campaign.
Since Newsom has already appointed a Latino to the Senate, operatives postulate that he is most likely to appoint an Asian American, African American, or Native American woman to succeed Feinstein in the event of her resignation. That possibility has Tribes organizing around the objective of “seating the first indigenous woman in the United States Senate” — and California Tribes have been throwing money at Newsom to make it happen.
“An indigenous Senator from California would be an extraordinary accomplishment of the progressive justice movement,” explains emeritus lecturer Alan Leventhal, of San Jose State University. “Appointing a Native American woman would be even more extraordinary, given that indigenous women face the highest rates of murder and violence in North America.”
In recent years, the upper echelons of the Democratic Party have begun to realize the influence of indigenous voters in red states — as evidenced by the ‘Blue-ing’ of Arizona and the recent election of Mary Peltola in Alaska. In a Democratic Party Presidential Primary process, indigenous voters could be a determinative swing constituency in States like Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Political operatives believe that Newsom could defy his image as a coastal elite by appealing strongly to indigenous communities in far-flung corners of the country — and what better way to do so than by appointing the first indigenous woman to ever be seated in the United States Senate, they postulate.
And if he does decide to choose such an unconventional outside-the-box candidate, California has no shortage of strong, capable, and experienced tribal leaders — many of whom are more familiar with the workings of Congress (and the dastardly consequences of its racist policies) than the congresspersons themselves.
“Charlene Nijmeh, the Tribal Chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, is one of the most extraordinary community organizers that anyone will ever meet,” Leventhal explains. “She would be an extraordinary Senator and would elevate the dignity of the office and represent the interests of all California residents.”
Because Padilla is from Southern California, most in Sacramento believe that Newsom will look to appoint someone from the San Francisco Bay Area.
“If the primary is a competitive one, then all of these smaller states in the mid-section of the country suddenly become critically important for Newsom,” a longtime Democratic Party operative explains. “And if an African American candidate decides to run, and South Carolina is at the top of the primary calendar, he can be sure that it will be competitive.”
In a competitive general election contest, Arizona — where the indigenous vote has determinatively swung the State to the Democrats for the last two federal election cycles — is likely to again be at the crux of the presidential election in 2024. Newsom is widely believed to be considering Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, of New Mexico, as his Vice Presidential running mate, precisely because of her appeal in the Southwest.