Alex Padilla — California's Secretary of State, a loyal Newsom ally and a Latino in a state that has never had a member of that largest ethnic group serve as senator — was a top pick. Sure enough, as Newsom announced Tuesday, the Democrat from Pacoima is on his way to Washington.
But for many Californians — perhaps the majority — Padilla's nomination is likely to elicit more curiosity than self-congratulation, less "I knew it" and more "who knew?"
If you're acquainting yourself with Padilla for the first time, here are a few takeaways from his California CV.
1. California's #1 turnout booster
Like surfing, Silicon Valley and unaffordable housing, California has made easy access to the ballot box its calling card. While many GOP-run states have embraced voter ID requirements and have balked at the prospect of sending ballots by mail, Californians have gone in the opposite direction.
Padilla can take credit for a lot of that. Consider these recent changes to the state's voting rules:
• Eligible adults are automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver's license — though California's new motor voter program hit a few speed bumps along the way
• 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote, ensuring that they are automatically added to the voter rolls when they turn 18
• If a registered voter's official signature doesn't match the one they put on their mail-in ballot envelope, counties are now required to give them the opportunity to try again
• Before the pandemic made it a statewide practice, over a dozen counties sent ballots to every active, registered voter — whether they signed up to vote by mail or not
• California's 2020 primary was bumped up from June to March, giving the state's voters an earlier say in this year's presidential contest.
All of that is thanks to legislation sponsored by Padilla. And as head of the national coalition of Democratic state election administrators, he has also been one of the most prominent evangelists for California's election model on the national stage.
2. Leaving behind an ethically dicey $35 million bill
With mammoth turnout expected in an election like no other, staff inside the Secretary of State's office spent the summer of 2020 scrambling to inform voters about the what, when, where and how of voting.
That's why they inked a contract in September with the political consulting firm, SKDKnickerbocker, to run a statewide PR campaign called Vote Safe California. The total tab: $35 million.
That contract got Padilla into hot water with Republicans. SKDKnickerbocker has longstanding ties to the Democratic Party and was a client of president-elect Joe Biden, then a candidate in the election the firm had been hired to promote. GOP members of Congress launched an investigation and the conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association took Padilla to court.
As CalMatters reported, the contract also didn't go over well with the state's Democratic controller, Betty Yee, who is responsible for approving all state government payments. According to Yee's staff, Padilla's office planned to draw the necessary $35 million from a pot of cash that was supposed to fund county government voter outreach operations. In a letter Padlla wrote to Yee, he argued that the SKDKnickerbocker campaign was being conducted "on behalf of counties."
But so far Yee has refused to budge. And it's unclear who will ultimately be left holding the bag.
3. Patron saint of tote bags
Padilla hasn't just changed the way Californians vote. As a state Senator, he's changed the way we shop too.
In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed what was arguably the most controversial bill of Padilla's eight-year legislative tenure, outlawing single-use plastic bags at grocery stores.
The statewide ban wasn't enacted without a fight. Padilla drew flack from fellow Los Angeles Democrats who worried the bill would harm a major plastic bag manufacturer south of downtown.
Conservative critics piled on, both in California and nationally, highlighting Padilla's effort as a measure par excellence of California nanny statism. The Pacoima senator made an easy target for the libertarian critique.
Prior legislative efforts of his included a successful bill to force chain restaurants to
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