SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that California Secretary of State Alex Padilla will takeover one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats when Kamala Harris vacates it in January to became the Vice President.

The son of Mexican immigrants who worked as a cook and a house cleaner, Padilla’s selection also has historic significance as he becomes the first Latino to hold the office.

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“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement.

Padilla, 47, has been California’s top elections official since 2015. In that position, he’s overseen California’s vast elections apparatus, including the rollout of a more robust vote-by-mail system.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla at Lectern

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla at lectern at a news conference to discuss voting rights and announce voter registration numbers Nov. 2, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In the November election, California mailed a ballot to every single registered voter. Prior to that, he oversaw the implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act, a 2016 law that allowed counties to mail all registered voters a ballot.

Making history has become a trademark of Padilla’s career. He was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on January 5, 2015 and pledged to bring more Californians into the democratic process as the state’s top elections official.

In a news release, Newsom called Padilla “a warrior for voting rights and the American Dream.”

California voters re-elected him in 2018 in an election where he received the most votes of any Latino elected official in the United States.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in the news release. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

In 2006, Padilla was elected to the State Senate to represent the more than 1 million people in the San Fernando Valley. In that position, he would author more than 70 bills signed into law by both Republican and Democratic governors.

Newsom’s appointment of Padilla to replace Harris, who is currently the only Black woman in the Senate, is not without controversy. San Francisco Mayor London Breed expressed disappointment.

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“This is a real blow to the African American community, to African American woman, to women in general and I think it’s really challenging to put it in words, but it’s definitely a surprise and it’s an unfortunate situation as we try to move this country forward in making sure that Black lives truly matter and that African Americans have a seat, at the table especially African American women, after what was done in this race at a national level,” the mayor said when a reporter asked during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Among those thought to be on the shortlist was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). Following the announcement, Lee tweeted “Seeing all the words of support means so much to me. Thank you to all those who lifted me up and supported progressive Black women and women of color in leadership. Onward together!”

Harris expressed support for the pick, also in a tweet, saying, “I know you’ll continue to be a champion for our great state in the Senate. Congratulations my dear friend.”

Myrna Melgar who was just elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first Latina to achieve that position without being appointed first echoed that sentiment.

“This story so resonated with me and I cried tears of joy for his mom for his story for the story of all immigrant families who come here for a better life,” said Melgar.

An immigrant from El Salvador, Melgar moved to the U.S. at the age of 12. “I’m so thrilled. For the community and for now Senator Padilla and his great achievements of having gotten to that point.”

Supervisor-elect Melgar said as the mother of African-American daughters, she understands the frustration among folks in the Black community.

“I empathize that we’ve only had one Senator who was African American as a woman, I definitely want us to have that as a goal. That, however, doesn’t take away the achievement of Senator Padilla, nor the happiness and joy of the community, the Latino community, in seeing itself represented.”

Joe Tuman, a political and media professor at San Francisco State University said there may have been some political calculus in not appointing a Black California congresswoman to Harris’ seat.

“The truth is the House of Representatives lost some seats, some Democratic seats. That gain they made in 2018, they gave back in this most recent election. So there is a little bit of a concern, I’m sure, about plucking people out of the House,” Tuman told KPIX 5 via Zoom.

Late Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber to succeed Padilla as Secretary of State. If confirmed by the legislature, Weber would become the first Black person to hold the office.

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