SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Should California get its first Latino U.S. senator or should the 100-member chamber maintain one Black woman’s voice?
That's a weight on California Gov. Gavin Newsom's shoulders as he considers his pick to serve out the rest of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' Senate term through 2022. That the choice is left to one governor has some observers frustrated with the persistent lack of racial diversity in the Senate and what they view as both parties' failure to do much about it.
“It’s a false choice and it’s not good for democracy, and it masks the historical exclusion of both communities in the Senate," said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA.
Without Harris, the only Black woman in the Senate, the chamber has:
— two Black senators, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina.
— two women of Asian heritage, Democrats Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
— four people of Hispanic heritage, Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico will join the Senate in January.
That amounts to 9% of the Senate, while roughly 40% of the U.S. population identifies as a person of color. California is nearly 40% Latino and about 6% Black.