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Alex Padilla is sworn in as California’s first Latino senator

Padilla will serve out the remaining two years in Vice President Kamala Harris’s term.

Alex Padilla has been sworn in as California’s first Latino senator.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Alex Padilla is officially California’s first Latino senator, after being sworn in this afternoon alongside Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Padilla, a longtime public servant who most recently served as California’s secretary of state, will take over Vice President Kamala Harris’s seat. Selected by California Gov. Gavin Newsom last year, Padilla will complete the remaining two years in Harris’s term and be up for reelection in 2022.

Now that Padilla, Ossoff, and Warnock have been seated, Democrats have a 50-person caucus and the Senate majority, given Harris’s tie-breaking vote. They’re poised to take on an impeachment trial, approve Cabinet nominees, and weigh an ambitious legislative agenda in the coming weeks.

In a recent interview with the New York Times’s Jennifer Medina, Padilla emphasized plans to focus his legislative efforts on coronavirus relief and immigration reform. He’s also noted his support for eliminating the legislative filibuster, as well as key progressive priorities such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.

“It is not enough to just reverse executive orders signed by Donald Trump,” Padilla told the Times. “We have to go beyond that and actually provide the comprehensive immigration reform.”

Who is Alex Padilla?

Padilla’s appointment to the Senate is a historic one. Until now, the state — which is 40 percent Latino — had yet to have a Latino senator. In the current Congress, Padilla is one of six Latino senators in the upper chamber.

In his previous role as California’s secretary of state, Padilla successfully oversaw the recent general election and the massive uptick in mail-in voting due to the pandemic. He’s also advanced reforms to help make voting more accessible, including automatically registering eligible adults when they receive a driver’s license.

Prior to his election as secretary of state in 2014, Padilla was a state senator and head of the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications. As a member of the legislature, he introduced laws that created rules for driverless car tests, as well as public health measures requiring fast food restaurants to disclose nutrition information.

A graduate of MIT and a former engineer, Padilla began his public service career as a member of the Los Angeles City Council in 1999. He also worked as an aide for Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then-Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, who’s now a member of Congress.

Padilla’s ties to the state are deep: He grew up in Southern California as the son of Mexican immigrants, whose support he spoke about emotionally when Newsom asked him to take over Harris’s seat. “Can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us, or the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses, doing the same thing,” Padilla said. “That’s why I try so hard to make sure that our democracy is as inclusive in California as we’ve built.”

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