It’s time: Newsom should appoint Latino to U.S. Senate seat

California Latinos celebrate the 3election results at a Nov. 7 rally in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Matt Gush)

California is a state of historic firsts. We led the way on LGBTQ rights and climate policy. We were the first state to have two female Senators, and we can now proudly claim that we gave the country its first African-American, Indian-American, female Vice President.

The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has left Harris’ Senate seat open. In appointing someone to fill this seat, Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to secure another historic first by selecting our state’s first Latino or Latina U.S. Senator.

Since California joined the Union in 1850, we have had 44 U.S. Senators. Not a single one has been Latino.

Latinos helped build California. Now we grow its food, serve in its national guard, contribute to its art and culture, and own nearly 25 percent of its businesses. Latinos make up 40 percent of our population, the largest ethnic group in the state. 54 percent of all students in California’s K through 12 public schools are Latino.

These young people are the future of our state. Yet they do not see themselves represented at the highest levels of our government. Since California joined the Union in 1850, we have had 44 U.S. Senators. Not a single one has been Latino.

This lack of representation isn’t just about fairness or “identity politics.” It has a concrete impact on policy.

Latinos in California are dying at a disproportionate rate from COVID-19, and need a voice in the national conversation about recovering from this pandemic and preventing further deaths. Latinos make up nearly 60% of California’s uninsured population, as the Senate confirms Supreme Court justices who could strike down the Affordable Care Act. National immigration policies have an outsized effect on our state’s documented and undocumented immigrants, many of them from Latin America. And foreign policy – on which the Senate frequently weighs in – is critically important to Latinos, who make up the fastest growing population in the military.

California has many Latinos, like myself, serving in local and state government. Our U.S. House delegation includes Latino leaders like Linda Sanchez and Juan Vargas. But there is no question that the Senate offers a bigger platform, and a chance to have a powerful impact on policy at this critical moment for our state and our nation.

Selecting a Latino U.S. Senator would send a message to the millions of Latinos who contribute to our state with their taxes, labor, energy and ideas. It would send a particularly strong message to all the young people imagining what they might be when they grow up. And it would hearten every Californian who wants our leadership to reflect our population.

Gov. Newsom has dedicated his career to standing up for equality. He understands that representation is about more than symbolism; it has a direct impact on the laws we pass and the voices that contribute to the debate. I urge the Governor to seize this moment, break down a historic barrier, and send our state’s first Latino senator to Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note:  Robert Rivas (D- Hollister) is a member of the state Assembly, representing the 30th District. Rivas is vice chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus and heads the Assembly Committee on Agriculture.

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