Laphonza Butler
Official portrait, 2023
United States Senator
from California
Assumed office
October 1, 2023
Serving with Alex Padilla
Appointed byGavin Newsom
Preceded byDianne Feinstein
Personal details
Laphonza Romanique Butler

(1979-05-11) May 11, 1979 (age 44)
Magnolia, Mississippi, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseNeneki Lee
EducationJackson State University (BA)
WebsiteSenate website

Laphonza Romanique Butler (/ləˈfɔːnzə/ lə-FON-zə; born May 11, 1979) is an American labor union official and politician serving as the junior United States senator from California since 2023. Butler began her career as a union organizer, and served as president of California SEIU State Council from 2013 to 2018. A member of the Democratic Party, she was a regent of the University of California system from 2018 to 2021, and the president of EMILY's List from 2021 to 2023.

On October 1, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom chose Butler to fill the United States Senate seat left vacant by the death of Dianne Feinstein. She is the first LGBT African American to serve in the Senate.

Early life and education

Butler was born on May 11, 1979, in Magnolia, Mississippi, the youngest of three children. Her father died of heart disease when Butler was 16 years old. She graduated as a salutatorian from South Pike High School in 1997.[1][2][3] Butler earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Jackson State University in 2001.[1][4]


Butler (center) with State Assemblymembers Jimmy Gomez, Bonnie Lowenthal, John Pérez, and Susan Eggman in 2013

Butler began her career as a union organizer for nurses in Baltimore and Milwaukee, janitors in Philadelphia, and hospital workers in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2009, she moved to California, where she organized in-home caregivers and nurses and served as president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 2015.[4][5][6] Butler was elected president of the California SEIU State Council in 2013. She undertook efforts to boost California's minimum wage and raise income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.[4] As president of SEIU Local 2015, Butler endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.[7] Butler was one of California's electors who voted for Clinton in the 2016 election.[8]

In 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Butler to a 12-year term as a regent of the University of California.[6] She resigned from her role as regent in 2021.[9]

Butler joined SCRB Strategies, a California-based political-consulting firm, as a partner in 2018. At SCRB, she played a central role in Kamala Harris's 2020 presidential campaign. She has been a political ally of Harris's since the latter's first run for California Attorney General in 2010, when she helped Harris negotiate a shared SEIU endorsement in the race.[4][10] Butler advised Uber in its dealings with organized labor while at SCRB,[11] at a time when Uber was attempting to stop state legislation from classifying its drivers as employees.[12] The New York Times reported that Butler "advised Uber on how to deal with unions like the Teamsters and S.E.I.U., and sat in on several face-to-face meetings between the gig companies and union representatives".[13] Butler left SCRB in 2020 to join Airbnb as director of public policy and campaigns in North America.[14][5]

In 2021, Butler was named the third president of EMILY's List. She was the first black woman and first mother to lead the organization.[15][4] In February 2022, Butler joined the board of directors of Vision to Learn.[16][17]

U.S. Senate


Butler sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris in the Old Senate Chamber in 2023

In February 2023, incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she would not run for a sixth full term in the Senate in 2024. On September 29, 2023, she died at the age of 90. At the time of Feinstein's death, several prominent candidates had already announced campaigns for her seat, including U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff. California Governor Gavin Newsom had previously pledged to nominate a black woman to the office.[18]

On October 1, 2023, Newsom chose Butler to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Feinstein's death, fulfilling his pledge to appoint a black woman.[19][20] Butler was selected despite not being a resident of California, as she had moved to Maryland in 2021.[21] The United States Constitution requires only that senators be "inhabitants" of the state they represent.[21] Newsom's office said that Butler would re-register to vote in California before taking office as a senator.[22] Shortly before nominating Butler, Newsom announced that his nominee would be free to run in 2024 if they chose,[23] a departure from his previous position.[24] On October 19, 2023, Butler announced she would not seek election to serve the final two months of the current term or for a full term beginning in 2025.[25] Her appointment will expire when her successor is elected.

Butler became the first openly LGBT member of the U.S. Senate from California and its first black LGBT member, and was sworn in on October 3, 2023.[26][27]


Butler announced she would not run in the 2024 United States Senate election in California.[25]

In January 2024, Butler voted for a resolution, proposed by Bernie Sanders, to apply the human rights provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act to U.S. aid to Israel's military. The proposal was defeated, 72 to 11.[28]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Personal life

Butler is a lesbian, and she and her wife, Neneki Lee, have a daughter.[31] They moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2021 when she assumed the presidency of EMILY's List,[32][33] while continuing to own a home in View Park, California, in Los Angeles County.[34] In October 2023, when Newsom appointed her to the Senate, she officially re-domiciled to that home and re-registered to vote in California.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Initial Page". Senator Butler. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  2. ^ "Butler gets Beta Club scholarship". Enterprise-Journal. April 18, 1997. p. 4. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 2, 2023 – via
  3. ^ "S. Pike High School seniors honored". Enterprise-Journal. July 10, 1997. p. 3. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e Barabak, Mark (November 5, 2021). "Column: For women in politics, California strategist offers a fresh face and added mission". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Owens, Donna M. (September 22, 2021). "Laphonza Butler Becomes First Black Woman to Lead Influential Political Organization EMILY's List". Essence. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Laphonza Butler President of SEIU Local 2015, Appointed Budget Director to University of California Board of Regents". Los Angeles Sentinel. Associated Press. August 8, 2018. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  7. ^ Cottman, Michael (February 4, 2016). "Clinton Gains Support From 170 African American Women Leaders". NBC News. Archived from the original on January 24, 2018. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  8. ^ "November 8, 2016, General Election Presidential Elector List for the State of California" (PDF). California Secretary of State. October 4, 2016. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  9. ^ "Regent Emerita Laphonza Butler | Board of Regents". Archived from the original on August 12, 2023. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  10. ^ Mason, Melanie (December 7, 2018). "Labor leader Laphonza Butler jumps to political consulting — and just maybe a Kamala Harris presidential campaign". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  11. ^ Finnegan, Michael; Mason, Melanie (September 12, 2019). "Kamala Harris' brother-in-law is the public face of Uber's fight with labor. It's awkward". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  12. ^ Stein, Shira (October 3, 2023). "Exclusive: California Sen. Laphonza Butler defends consulting work with Uber, living in Maryland". San Francisco Chronicle.
  13. ^ Browning, Kellen; Corkery, Michael (October 7, 2023). "Once a Labor Leader, Butler Angered Unions by Consulting for Uber". New YorkTimes.
  14. ^ Cadelago, Christopher; Marinucci, Carla (September 4, 2020). "Key Kamala Harris political consultant heads to top Airbnb post". Politico. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  15. ^ Booker, Brakkton (September 24, 2021). "EMILY's List has a new Queenmaker". Politico. Archived from the original on August 10, 2023. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  16. ^ "2022 Vision To Learn Form 990". ProPublica. May 9, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2023.
  17. ^ "Leadership". Vision To Learn. Retrieved October 6, 2023.
  18. ^ "Newsom poised to appoint a Black woman to fill Feinstein's seat, amid controversy". ABC News. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  19. ^ Cadelago, Christopher (October 1, 2023). "Newsom picks Laphonza Butler as Feinstein replacement". Politico. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  20. ^ Rosenhall, Laurel; Mehta, Seema (October 1, 2023). "Newsom taps Laphonza Butler for Feinstein's Senate seat". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 1, 2023.
  21. ^ a b Stern, Mark Joseph (October 2, 2023). "The Strange Constitutional Loophole Exposed by Dianne Feinstein's Replacement". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  22. ^ Bollag, Sophia; Garofoli, Joe (October 1, 2023). "Gavin Newsom names Laphonza Butler to fill U.S. Senate seat". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  23. ^ "Gavin Newsom's appointee to replace Dianne Feinstein will be eligible to run for a full Senate term in 2024". Yahoo News. October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 19, 2023.
  24. ^ "California Gov. Gavin Newsom would make an 'interim' choice if Dianne Feinstein vacates her Senate seat". NBC News. September 11, 2023. Retrieved October 19, 2023.
  25. ^ a b Hubler, Shawn (October 19, 2023). "Laphonza Butler Will Not Run for Senate in 2024". The New York Times. Retrieved October 19, 2023.
  26. ^ Reston, Maeve; Pager, Tyler (October 2, 2023). "Newsom taps Emily's List leader to fill Feinstein's Senate seat". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  27. ^ Rubin, April (October 3, 2023). "California Sen. Laphonza Butler sworn in, marking historic first". Axios. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  28. ^ Bolton, Alexander (January 16, 2024). "Democratic rebels send Biden stern message on Gaza". The Hill. Retrieved January 17, 2024.
  29. ^ a b c d Sforza, Lauren (October 17, 2023). "Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein's Senate Judiciary Committee seat". The Hill. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  30. ^ "Congressional Black Caucus". Congressional Black Caucus. October 3, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  31. ^ St Clair, Katy (October 1, 2023). "Laphonza Butler, Newsom's Feinstein replacement, to make LGBT history". CBS Bay Area. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  32. ^ Brewster, Freddy (October 1, 2023). "Gov. Newsom's office says he'll name Laphonza Butler, former Kamala Harris adviser, to Feinstein Senate seat". KTVU. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  33. ^ Phillips, Aleks (October 2, 2023). "Laphonza Butler's non-California residence raises questions". Newsweek. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  34. ^ a b Chambers, Francesca (October 2, 2023). "Meet Laphonza Butler, the EMILY's List president and Kamala Harris ally entering the Senate". USA Today. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
U.S. Senate Preceded byDianne Feinstein U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California 2023–present Served alongside: Alex Padilla Incumbent U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial) Preceded byPete Rickettsas United States Senator from Nebraska Order of precedence of the United Statesas United States Senator from California Succeeded byGovernors of States Preceded byPete Ricketts United States senators by seniority 100th Last