Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) had been in office for just two weeks before deciding she wouldn’t seek a full six-year term.
Butler, who was appointed to the seat in October after the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), was thrust into a role that was never on her bingo card. The progressive activist and longtime union organizer suddenly had a huge decision to make.
A central factor informing her decision was her 9-year-old daughter — a rare consideration for a member of a legislative body with a median age in the mid-60s.
“She is really excited about her mom being a senator. But most importantly, she’s excited about her mom being a mom,” Butler, 44, told us. “And the opportunity to choose her, and to show her that I chose her, was another factor in how I thought about my decision.”
Butler has had extensive conversations about this with other young parents in the Senate, like Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.). She ultimately concluded that “there are challenges to doing this job and doing this job well” while being the parent of a young child.
We sat down with Butler on the eve of her maiden speech on the Senate floor, scheduled for this afternoon. Butler plans to focus on the plight of young Americans, a nod to her desire to pass the torch and “create room for others to lead.” She’ll touch on issues like voting rights, abortion, housing affordability, mental health and more.
Butler has no plans to endorse a successor. California Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee are all vying for the job. Butler is currently the only Black woman in the Senate, and Lee is the only Black woman in the race. Butler noted that Black women such as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Angela Alsobrooks of Maryland are well-positioned in their own Senate races.
Most people plan for months, if not years, to become a senator. Butler joked that she “became a senator essentially in a 24-hour period.”
“What the appointment gave me the opportunity to affirm is that I know exactly who I am,” Butler said. “I can be best utilized… in spaces and opportunities where I am creating room for others. The opportunity to do that… is more important to me.”
— Andrew Desiderio