On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) appointed Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) to serve in the U.S. Senate, replacing incoming Vice President Kamala Harris. Padilla checks off a key identity politics box but he also brings some baggage.
Here are five things to know about Alex Padilla.
1. He’s Latino
Padilla became the first Latino senator from California, a state with a growing Latino population. His parents emigrated from Mexico before meeting and marrying in Los Angeles.
Many on the Left may be unsatisfied with Padilla. While he is the first Latino senator from California, he does not check off as many boxes as Harris did. Harris, a female descended from Asian and Caribbean immigrants, won the intersectional lottery — in addition to her voting record as the most liberal member of the Senate.
2. His resume
Padilla earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1994. He worked as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft, where he wrote software for satellite systems. He joined the Los Angeles City Council in 1999, serving as the council’s president from 2001 to 2006. He served in the California State Senate from 2006 to 2014.
Padilla became secretary of state in 2015, winning reelection in 2018. Perhaps most importantly for this nomination, Padilla has a long history with Newsom. When Newsom announced his run for governor in 2010, Padilla supported him — before Jerry Brown announced his successful run. Padilla endorsed Newsom again in 2017.
3. Relaxing ballot protections
Padilla has relaxed ballot protections, sending ballots to every active registered voter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due in part to the secretary of state’s efforts, California recently changed many voting rules. For example, eligible adults are automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, counties are required to give voters an opportunity to fix their signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes if the signatures do not match the ones on file, and California bumped up its 2020 primary from June to March.
Padilla has advocated for bringing California’s election model to other states, a recipe for exacerbating the election integrity doubts that have plagued the 2020 election.
Padilla also paid the political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker $35 million for a statewide PR campaign called Vote Safe California. SKDKnickerbocker has longstanding ties with the Democratic Party and Joe Biden hired the firm to promote him in the same election SKDKnickerbocker promoted in California.
Republican members of Congress launched an investigation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued Padilla over the contract.
California Controller Betty Yee (D) claimed that Padilla’s office wrongfully planned to draw the necessary $35 million from a fund for county government voter operations. Padilla argued that he approved the SKDKnickerbocker campaign “on behalf of counties,” but Yee has yet to approve the funding.
5. The plastic bag ban
Most infamously, in September 2014, then-State Senator Padilla promoted what would later become Proposition 67, the statewide ban on plastic bags. California voters approved the ban on November 8, 2016, with 66 percent of the vote.
It remains to be seen if Padilla will prove as leftist as Kamala Harris, but his history raises many red flags.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.