Five Latinas Who Could Make History In Kamala Harris’ California Senate Seat

Supermajority Education Fund

September 16, 2020

Last month, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his decision to pick California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for the 2020 presidential election. Should they win, California Governor Gavin Newsom will decide who replaces Sen. Harris in the Senate. No Latinx Californian has ever been elected to represent the state, despite the fact that at about 39% of California’s population, Latinos are the largest ethnic/racial group in the state. 

Here are five Latina women who would be great successors to Kamala Harris’ seat in the Senate.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, U.S. Representative for California’s 40th Congressional District

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who became the first Mexican American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, is also the first Latina to serve as one of the 12 “cardinals,” or chairs, of a House Appropriations Subcommittee and the first woman to chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The congresswoman, who founded the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform, also co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care in 2015 and co-sponsored the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act, which became law in 2018, and required the Health Resources and Services Administration to identify which areas have a shortage of maternity health care professionals and assign additional maternity care providers to those areas.

In 2019, the congresswoman introduced the Security and Financial Empowerment Act, which promotes economic security and safety for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. Portions of the Act were included in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2019. 

Rep. Roybal-Allard also authored the Protect Family Values at the Border Act, which ensures that immigrant families are not separated at the border, in 2017, and in 2019, co-authored the Help Separated Families Act, which prevents permanent separation of children from their immigrant parents. Both of these acts have yet to pass the House.

Rep. Linda Sánchez, U.S. Representative for California’s 38th Congressional District

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez

Rep. Linda Sánchez is the first Latina to serve on the House Committee on Ways and Means and on the House Judiciary Committee. She also became the first Latina elected to a leadership position in Congress when she was elected Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus during the 115th Congress. 

The former labor lawyer is best known for her advocacy for working families and workers’ rights by advocating for legislation to raise the minimum wage and expand the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action. She helped found the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus which  promotes legislation that protects workers rightsand was also the original co-sponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which was created to reduce gender-based discrimination in the workplace. 

Rep. Sánchez has also worked to ensure that the next generations of America are given opportunities to succeed. In 2017, alongside Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, she introduced the ACCESS Act, which restores year-round Pell Grant eligibility and, in 2019 introduced the Put School Counselors Where They’re Needed Act to provide funding to place additional counselors in high schools with high drop-out rates.

Hilda Solis, Los Angeles County Supervisor for the First District of Los Angeles County

Supervisor Hilda Solis

Hilda Solis, the first Latina to have been elected to the California State Senate and the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Cabinet as Secretary of Labor under President Obama, is best known for her pioneering environmental justice work — in fact, in 2000, Solis became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for that work. In 2007, she authored the Green Jobs Act which provides funding for “green” collar job training. As Los Angeles County Supervisor, she has helped approve the Los Angeles Region Safe, Clean Water Program Implementation Ordinance and established the Los Angeles County Youth Climate Commission. She also recently motioned for a new park to be established in East L.A. on a site owned by Southern California Edison. 

Since the 2016 presidential election, Solis has also authored and passed dozens of motions meant to help protect and defend immigrant communities, a couple of which have included provisions for outreach and the supply of resources to immigrants in Los Angeles County. She also created the Immigrant Protection and Advancement Taskforce in 2016 to strategize on how to best help protect immigrant residents.

Supervisor Solis is committed to economically supporting her community. She authored a motion that began the process to launch a county-wide microloan program to help support local businesses and underserved communities, and also authored another motion to continue funding for Youth@Work, a program devoted to helping vulnerable youth land work experiences which will lead them to land entry-level jobs.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, representative of the 80th Assembly District in the California State Assembly

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is the first Latina in California history to Chair the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Like Rep. Linda Sánchez, Gonzalez’s number one focus has been on worker’s issues. In 2014, the former labor leader authored legislation that allowed over 6 million Californians to earn paid sick leave. In 2019, she championed a package of legislation that provided a basic level of support for working women made up of about four bills, two of which are geared toward preventing sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. Gonzalez also authored a bill in 2019 that ended forced arbitration as a condition of employment — this essentially means that workers in California can no longer be forced to waive their right to workplace protections as a precondition of employment. 

Gonzalez, who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, has also worked to ensure the safety and rights of immigrants in California. She authored a bill which protects the rights of immigrants to safely enter California courthouses without the threat of civil arrest in 2019, and authored another bill that extended the statute of limitations on reporting childhood sexual abuse, from age 26 to age 40 in 2019. 

In 2015, Atlantic Magazine called her “The California Democrat setting the National Agenda” due to her practical, progressive legislation meant to help her constituents. 

State Senator María Elena Durazo, representative of California’s 24th State Senate District

State Senator Maria Elena Durazo

In 1993 while serving as president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), state Sen. María Elena Durazo led workers in civil disobedience protests against a hotel in Los Angeles, which led to her arrest along with other workers. Durazo went on to serve as the Executive Vice President of UNITE HERE, an international labor union of approximately 300,000 U.S. and Canadian workers from 2004 to 2018, before winning her bid for California State Senator. She became the first woman Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) in 2006, and during her tenure pushed through a minimum wage law that requires Los Angeles hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour. 

In 2010, Durazo was named the third most influential non-elected California official by Capitol Weekly, and was also dubbed as the Most Valuable Local Labor Leader by The Nation magazine’s 2014 Progressive Honor Roll.

Since becoming a State Senator in 2018, Durazo has authored legislation that essentially made any data which pertains to job wages, working conditions, or hiring practices from private companies with state and local contracts in California public and holds private industry employers accountable for providing good-paying jobs and good working conditions to employees. 

Durazo also authored a bill, in 2019, which extends the California DREAM Loan Program to University of California and California State University graduate students, aiding undocumented students with a lack of financial support to be able to enroll in graduate degree program at a public university. More recently, state Sen. Durazo introduced a bill to create the California Homeless Taxing Credit which aims to create access to good jobs and living wages for homeless individuals.