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Triple-Dog Dare: An Open Letter to Governor Newsom

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee

No governor likes to be bullied, especially you (we know from personal experience). Nor would I recommend anyone to dare the leader of the fifth-largest economy in the world to demonstrate his raw political power, for that also is not the wisest way to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom to go your way.

And yet, here we find ourselves and Black women in California are doing just that.

Right now, you have an obligation to fill the seat vacated by the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate. Just a few years ago, Californians chose a Black woman to represent them and it would be an inexcusable slight – a proverbial slap in the face – to replace Kamala Harris with a man, irrespective of his race. Full stop.

California’s 1 million Black women fought hard to finally get a seat at that decision-making table and we will not accept it being given away in the third act of political theater. This isn’t a game of musical chairs, and if you truly believe that representation matters, then don’t talk about it, be about it.

So, let’s be clear – this seat must be filled by a Black woman — as the voters intended. And, in this moment, someone who stands out as both worthy and capable is Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

The protégé of Shirley Chisholm, Lee’s commitment to environmental justice, healthcare as a human right, reproductive freedom and advocacy against unnecessary wars is beyond reproach.

Importantly, it’s her two decades’ of experience in the halls of Congress that is our incontrovertible proof that she’s ready on Day One to walk into the Senate at a time when we need unapologetically bold leadership the most.

We can’t afford to promote someone who will have to learn the ways of Wash., D.C., on the job. And with the Senate headed toward a deadlock at best… nope; the stakes are too high.

But beyond the practical and policy, Lee is the safest political choice that will avoid a bloody and ridiculously expensive Dem-on-Dem election in two years when this seat comes up again. No one is more respected by both the moderate and progressive wings of California Democrats and non-partisans.

To refresh our memories, it was Lee who bridged California’s Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders divides in 2016 and she did it again in 2020. It was Lee who led the charge for progressive policy inclusions in our Party’s platform this year. It was Lee who came out first and hardest for Vice President-Elect Harris when she decided to run for president nearly two years ago.

And while some folks are still debating whether Black lives matter, after this past election, one thing is for damn sure – Black votes matter, don’t they?! Lest we forget, it was the Black women organizers (and voters) in Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Detroit and Atlanta who literally snatched this country from the jaws of death and it’s because of them that we’re even having this conversation right now. But seriously, think about it: Black women are being asked to give up our only seat in the U.S. Senate due to a vacancy created by the success of a Black woman. It’s like we can’t win for losing and we also can’t win for winning. It’s the cruel irony for me… Appointing a Black woman to replace a Black woman isn’t doing us a favor. It’s doing right by us. So, please Mr. Governor, trust us, this isn’t a dare; it’s a request to return to an era of meritocracy and dignity that’s been missing from our politics for far too long. California’s Senate replacement pick for Harris should be Congresswoman Barbara Lee. We’re counting on you to do the right thing.

Kimberly Ellis is an American activist and was the executive director of Emerge California from 2010 until she ran for the Chair of the California Democratic Party in 2017.

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