Will she or won’t she?
It’s been less than two weeks since Laphonza Butler was hand-picked by California Governor Gavin Newsom to fill the Senate seat of the late Dianne Feinstein, and the question remains – will Butler enter the 2024 race to run for the seat in her own right?
"It is the big question," Butler joked, during an exclusive interview with FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson on the statewide political show "The Issue Is," her first joint TV appearance with fellow California Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).
"That is a real contemplation for me, thinking about what can I contribute to the country moving forward? What are my unique talents and skills? I know that I have them, and it’s a question about, you know, how do I process all of those things and do the job at the same time," she explained.
Sworn in on October 3, Butler is now the only Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate. She’s also the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the upper chamber.
Before being named by Newsom, Butler led Emily’s List, a political organization that supported pro-choice, female Democratic candidates.
Butler says her work in that position now weighs heavily on her decision to seek a full term in 2024.
"For the last two years, I have spent every waking moment trying to convince women across the country, more women of color with varied backgrounds across the country, that this is the moment where their community needs them to raise their hand and run for office," Butler told Michaelson, "and, you know, here I have the opportunity to consider those same choices, and that is really weighing on me."
Butler’s decision could completely upend the 2024 California Senate race, which has been in full swing for the better part of 2023. The race already features prominent Democrats scubas Representatives Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee. On the Republican side, former candidate for California Attorney General Eric Early and former Dodger Steve Garvey have made their candidacies official, Garvey just this week.
Butler said there is no timeline for her decision, especially as she settles into her new job, her swearing-in coming at a time when a Speaker-less House may increase the possibility of a Government Shutdown and as war breaks out in Israel.
"I have been really focused on honoring the legacy of Senator Feinstein," Butler said, "doing the work that is in front of me and trying to preserve the economic opportunity and progress that we've made for Californians in avoiding this shutdown."
Butler is also weighing the impact that a campaign and a possible six-year term might have on those closest to her.
"I'm thinking about my family, the divisive nature of the harassment that is happening both online and in real life. My mother is 70 years old; she didn't sign up for this. My daughter is nine, she didn't sign up for for this," Butler said. "And so I'm thinking about my family, my family's safety. I've already gotten my first piece of hate mail and a stranger has shown up at my door."
As Butler considers entering the race, her new Senate colleague, Alex Padilla says he is not currently considering making an endorsement for the March 5, 2024 primary.
"I’ve got to respect the timeframe and the decision-making process first," Padilla, who, himself, was appointed by Newsom to replace then-Senator Kamala Harris, before winning in his own right in 2022, said. "California is going to elect a Democrat. In addition to my day job, I'm serving as a Vice Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, so my goal is whoever is successful in next year's election, that they're coming into a Democratic majority because we know how much a majority matters."
In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview on "The Issue Is," Butler and Padilla also open up about their new partnership, which comes after a nearly 15-year-long friendship, the war in Israel, representation, and much more.
"The Issue Is" is California's only statewide political show. Watch FOX 11 Los Angeles Fridays at 10:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. For more showtimes and information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.