Laphonza Romanique Butler (1979- )

Laphonza Butler Senate photo 2023
Laphonza Butler Senate photo 2023
Public Domain Image

On October 1, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom chose well-known labor organizer and political strategist Laphonza Butler to be the next US Senator from California, following the death of long-serving Senator Dianne Feinstein on September 29, 2023. Butler, who was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris at the US Capitol on October 3, 2023, is the first openly LGBT Senator from California, the first Black lesbian in the US Senate, and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate, following Vice President Kamala Harris. California must hold two concurrent Senate elections in March 2024: a special election to fill out the rest of Feinstein’s term in spite of there being an appointed Senator, and another election for the full six-year term beginning in January 2025.

Senator Butler’s career path includes labor, corporate, academic, and political engagement. Social justice has been her focus within these varied endeavors. Born in Magnolia, Mississippi, in 1979, Butler comes from a working-class family. Her father was a small business owner who died of a terminal illness when Butler was in high school. She saw her mother become the household’s sole provider for three children, working as a classroom aide, a home care provider, a security guard, and a bookkeeper.

Butler earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Jackson State University in 2001. After graduation she began a career as a labor organizer in several states, working with nurses, custodians, and hospital workers. In accepting her appointment, Butler said that she would strive to honor Feinstein’s legacy by “committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California.” Her previous job as President of Emily’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, means it is likely abortion rights will be an important part of the Democrats’ election strategy in 2024.

In 2009 Butler moved to California where she organized nurses as well as in-home caregivers, and became President of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 2015 of United Long Term Care Workers; she also served as President of the SEIU State Council. Butler has served on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, the political action committee BlackPAC, and the Bay Area Economic Council Institute think tank. In addition, she is the former director of the Board of Governors of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve System, and a former Regent of the University of California.

Butler is married to Neneki Lee. The couple has an 8-year-old daughter. Lee is the National Division Director for Public Services at SEIU. When she became President of Emily’s list in 2021, Butler and her family moved to Maryland while maintaining their home in Los Angeles. As of October, 2023, they have re-domiciled to Los Angeles and Butler has re-registered to vote in California.