Who is Laphonza Butler? What to know about Newsom's pick for Feinstein's Senate seat

Laphonza Butler in Washington, DC.
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On Sunday evening, news dropped that Gov. Gavin Newsom planned to fill Dianne Feinstein's vacated Senate seat with political insider and Emily's List President Laphonza Butler.

Butler, 44, is the first out gay person to represent California in the Senate.

Her career spans the political, corporate, academic and labor worlds.

Before joining Emily's List — a political organization dedicated to electing women to political office — she served as director of public policy and campaigns at Airbnb and partnered at the political consulting firm SCRB Strategies — now Bearstar Strategies — whose clients included Newsom, former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and then-Sen. Kamala Harris. The firm is run by the governor’s veteran strategists Ace Smith, Sean Clegg and Juan Rodriguez.

Read more: Newsom taps Laphonza Butler for Feinstein's Senate seat

Butler also served for more than a decade as president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015, which represents more than 325,000 nursing-home and home-care workers throughout California. SEIU Local 2015 is the largest union in California and the largest local representing long-term-care workers in the country.

She was also a senior advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign.

In 2018, Butler was appointed as a UC regent by Gov. Jerry Brown, a post she held until 2021. She has sat on the board of the national child advocacy organization the Children’s Defense Fund, political action committee BlackPAC and the Bay Area Economic Council Institute think tank. She's a former director for the board of governors of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve System.

Butler was born in Magnolia, Miss. Her father died after a series of heart attacks when she was 16, leaving her mother to work as many as three jobs at once to support her three children.

She received her bachelor's degree in political science from Jackson State University — a historically Black college — where, she told The Times' Mark Z. Barabak in 2021, she was inspired by her instructors, many of whom were veterans of the civil rights movement.

They instilled within her a bent toward activism and a commitment to social justice, she said.

“What are you doing for freedom? That was always the question,” Butler recalled to Barabak. “What are you doing for freedom today?”

Butler moved to California in 2009 after serving as a labor organizer for nurses in Baltimore and Milwaukee, janitors in Philadelphia and hospital workers in New Haven, Conn.

She told Barabak that her experience in the labor movement had prepared her for politics, by teaching her "the patience of playing a long game and knowing how to have wins along the way.”

Butler lives in Maryland with her partner, Neneki Lee, and their daughter.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.