Gov. Newsom speaks about appointment of Laphonza Butler to Senate seat

It was an appointment that took political pundits by surprise: Laphonza Butler is a former labor leader, a political consultant, and someone who has never held office herself.

Now she'll be filling the Senate seat of the late Dianne Feinstein.

"She understands organizing is bottom up not top down. She understands moral authority not just formal authority. I mean she is next level qualified," says Governor Gavin Newsom.

Butler wrote on X, "No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership..."

Governor Gavin Newsom intended this to be an interim appointment, but won't ask Butler not to run for the seat.

"I've got an incredible appointee and she'll make the decision. No constraints. No expectations," says Newsom.

Butler will be the only current Black female senator. She will also be the first openly LGBTQ+ plus senator from California.

"It could not come at a more important time for our community to have that representation but also to have a tried and true fighter," says Tom Temprano of Equality California.

But with no track record of her own, political experts say it's hard to know what to expect.

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"He's picked someone he's politically comfortable with who he believes matches a lot of the demographic characteristics he was looking for in this appointment. But she's not someone who's ever had to be accountable to voters, not someone who's ever had to articulate a record or what she would do, and she's not even someone who's registered to vote in the state of California," says Lanhee Chen a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

She is not registered because she was living in Maryland to run Emily's List, a group dedicated to electing democratic pro-choice women. But before that she spent years as a union leader representing nursing home workers in California.  

Arnulfo De La Cruz, the current president of SEIU 2015, worked alongside her.

"I think to the Senate, she's going to bring that same determination to really fight for the underdog. The people who are often not seen. She really believes in that, and I saw that over a decade and that's why we were so excited when we got the news," he says.

Butler's swearing in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol is Tuesday at noon Pacific Time. Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Butler and the Second Gentleman will attend, KTVU has learned.