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Alex Padilla becomes Calif.'s 1st Latinx U.S. senator, filling Kamala Harris' seat

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was selected Tuesday to replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate. Photo courtesy of California Secretary of State
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was selected Tuesday to replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate. Photo courtesy of California Secretary of State

Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Alex Padilla will become California's first Latinx U.S. senator, filling the seat vacated by Kamala Harris' election to the vice presidency, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.

In choosing Padilla, California's two-term secretary of state, Newsom cited his national leadership on voting rights, hard work ethic and government experience, including serving as state senator and Los Angeles City Councilman -- experience that has been key to leading the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Padilla is the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate and the first Southern Californian in nearly three decades.

"The son of Mexican immigrants -- a cook and house cleaner -- Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the state senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California's secretary of state," Newsom said in a statement. "Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state's values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a senator for all Californians."

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Padilla became California's first Latinx secretary of state in 2005 and was re-elected in 2018. Under his leadership, voter registration rose by more than 4 million, same-day registration was implemented, and he oversaw voting system upgrades to meet higher security standards.

"I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Gov. Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians," Padilla said in a statement. "From those struggling to make ends meet, to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open, to the healthcare workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn't leave working families behind."

Over two terms as a state senator, Padilla passed legislation on renewable energy standards, bridging the digital divide, and gun safety measures such as tracking stolen guns.

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Padilla earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As an engineer, Padilla also authored legislation to protect Californians from discrimination based on genetic information and a bill creating a statewide Earthquake Early Warning System.

Previously, Padilla was elected as Los Angeles City Council's youngest president at age 26 during anti-immigrant tumult in the 1990s after California voters approved measures requiring "English-only" public schools and banning immigrants who were in the United States illegally from government assistance and services.

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As a city council member, he worked to expand after-school programs in his district, build libraries and a children's museum. And he also worked to retain and create more local job opportunities and championed citywide measures to improve air and water quality.

Padilla, a San Fernando Valley resident, is married to Angela, a mental health advocate, and they have three sons.

Padilla will serve the remainder of Harris' term, which runs through 2022. Harris is the first woman and first Black and South Asian person to be elected U.S. vice president.

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