It was seen as perhaps a stumble out of the gate when newly appointed California senator Laphonza Butler was revealed to have been living in Maryland the last two years, so she did a little clean-up on that in her first-day-on-the-job interview with the Chronicle.
Give Governor Gavin Newsom credit for moving fast, after last Thursday night’s death of Senator Dianne Feinstein, he had the appointment of Emily’s List president Laphonza Butler to that vacant Senate ready to go by Sunday night. (Emily’s List is a fundraising organization that helps get women candidates elected.)
But that fast nomination looked like it may have needed a little more vetting when, by the end of the day her appointment was announced, it came up that Butler has been living in Maryland — not California — since 2021. Also Monday night, Politico uncovered that Butler had done some corporate influence work for Uber and Airbnb.
Butler was still sworn in as your new senator Tuesday as scheduled. And on Tuesday, she sat for an exclusive first-day interview with the Chronicle, and tried to burnish her labor-organizer credentials to push back against the Uber and Airbnb revelations, and did her best to sweep the Maryland residency under the rug.
True, Butler is a longtime Californian who moved to Maryland when she took the Emily’s List job. And for what it’s worth, she quickly re-registered to vote at her Los Angeles home, which she still owns, right before being appointed. But the residency issue has given Republicans a valid political bomb to throw at her.
“When I agreed to take on this role, in serving, I knew that I was agreeing to do something incredibly difficult — that I was going to agree to step into the shoes of the leader who had taken San Francisco through some of the most traumatic times in its history,” Butler told the Chronicle. “And so I agreed to do something hard. But the labor movement built me for hard things.”
Nice evasion! But the labor movement claim may be somewhat at odds with her consulting work for Uber during the 2019 AB5 controversy, where California legislators gave more employment rights and benefits to gig workers and rideshare drivers (againstr Uber's wishes). And very curiously, the Chronicle points out that “Butler did not say specifically what her work on the measure entailed.”
“I’ve been very clear that they should have the protections of employment,” Butler told the Chron. “I’ve spent my entire career, nearly 20 years, in the labor movement, working to make sure that workers who wanted a union have the opportunity to have a fair shot to build one. My work on AB5 was exactly that.”
And there may be another mini-controversy that she wrote a supportive letter to a judge this past May on behalf of disgraced former L.A. city councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, who’s looking at a three-year prison sentence for corruption.
In response, she said to the Chronicle, “I would say to people to look for the humanity at every opportunity. And if the world is insistent on judging us all on our worst day, redemption would never be possible.”
All three candidates running for Feinstein’s former Senate seat have said supportive things about Butler and her appointment, even though there’s a chance she could run for the seat too in 2024. While Newsom originally indicated he was nominating a “caretaker” who’d just keep the seat warm until the 2024 election, Politico reported Monday that “Newsom is making his appointment without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick running for the seat in 2024.”
Maybe it’s a blunder that Gavin Newsom appointed someone with residency and previous work issues. Or maybe he purposely nominated someone with a little baggage, figuring that would make Butler less likely to join that crowded 2024 Democratic Senate seat race.
Image: WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 3: Senator-Delegate Laphonza Butler meets with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in his office on Capitol Hill on October 3, 2023 in Washington, DC. Butler was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to the vacant Senate seat of California following the passing of Dianne Feinstein. (Photo by Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)