CALIFORNIA, USA — In 2021, Kamala Harris left the U.S. Senate to be vice president to President Joe Biden. This gave Gov. Gavin Newsom the opportunity to appoint current Sen. Alex Padilla.
The U.S. Constitution’s 17th Amendment specifies that appointees to the Senate should serve “until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.” In May 2021, the California Legislature passed a law calling for the replacement vote to take place during the regularly scheduled election this November. That’s why California voters will be asked to elect a senator to fill the remainder of Harris’ term — which ends in January and has drawn fewer candidates — and to elect a senator to serve the next term.
Could different candidates be elected for the short-term role and the longer-term position? It wouldn’t be the first time. But Padilla, who has the backing of the entire Democratic establishment, is the clear favorite after winning more than 54% in both races in the June primary.
Of the 20 candidates who lined up to unseat him, only one candidate emerged from the pack to square off against the incumbent in November: Republican Mark Meuser. A conservative lawyer, Meuser has lost to Padilla before — a bid for Secretary of State in 2018.
Who is Alex Padilla?
The son of two Mexican immigrants who settled in Pacoima, Padilla graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then made the unlikely jump into politics in his mid-20s. Like many of California’s most powerful Latino politicians today, Padilla says the impetus was Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot measure that blocked public education and non-essential services to undocumented immigrants.
Since then, Padilla has steadily climbed the ranks of California political power: From staffer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Los Angeles City Council member to state senator to California’s Secretary of State. It was early during his state Senate career when Padilla made the fateful decision to support then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in his 2014 unsuccessful campaign for governor. That cemented a political alliance that made Padilla an obvious choice when Newsom was elected governor four years later and was tasked with filling a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.
Who is Mark Meuser?
Mark Meuser is a career lawyer whose work has never strayed far from conservative politics. Born in Huntington Beach, Meuser got a law degree at Oak Brook Christian, a correspondence college. After a brief detour working for a Republican state senator in Missouri, he set up his own private practice in the East Bay before landing a job at a law office perhaps best known for waging legal war against California’s liberal laws.
This isn’t the first time Meuser has run for office. It’s not even the first time he’s run against Alex Padilla. In races for state senator to Secretary of State, the Republican hasn’t been deterred by the long odds of pitching his red policies to mostly blue voters. Now, he’s seeking his highest office yet. Could this time be different? The June 7 primary results aren’t encouraging. On both U.S. Senate elections on the ballot (yes, there are two), he trailed Padilla by more than 30 percentage points.
On the Issues
Here’s where Alex Padilla stands on some of the biggest questions facing California. Mark Meuser declined to answer the questions.
How can the federal government help lower the cost of living and reduce inflation?
Padilla: I’m proud the Senate recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which will lower health care premiums and prescription drug costs for millions of Californians, while enacting a historic deficit reduction to fight inflation. I will continue working to lower costs for families, including by advocating for policies like the child tax credit, affordable housing, universal child care, paid family and sick leave, cracking down on exorbitant oil company profits, and Medicare for All.
What is the federal role in increasing affordable housing and reducing homelessness?
Padilla: Housing is a human right. As we continue to face the historic affordable housing and homelessness crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to take all levels of government working together to tackle this crisis. The federal government has a key role to play in leveraging the unmatched financial resources at our disposal, and I’ve introduced comprehensive legislation that would make a nearly $532 billion federal investment to address the affordable housing shortage and strengthen proven, locally-developed solutions to end homelessness.
Should the federal government encourage or require localities to ease zoning restrictions to permit more housing construction?
Padilla: Neighborhood zoning and planning is largely a local and state level issue. I believe the federal government can best support state and local governments by providing additional resources to help fund the construction of more affordable housing and help people afford their rent, both of which are key pillars of my Housing for All Act. I’m particularly focused on incentivizing more transit-oriented development to spur more housing construction near transit so that people can live closer to job centers and reduce their reliance on cars and the associated climate impacts.
This is an abridged version of the full story, which is available at CALmatters.org—a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.