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Magnolia Native and South Pike Graduate Headed to U. S. Senate:
Laphonza Butler is sworn in as California’s new Senator
By Everette Smith, Special to the Gazette

Everette Smith

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MAGNOLIA NATIVE SWORN IN AS CALIFORNIA’S NEW SENATOR-- Laphonza Butler poses with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer at the Capitol before her swearing-in on Tuesday.

On Sunday October 1st, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom chose 44-year-old Laphonza Romanique Butler as the new appointee to the U. S. Senate for the state of California to fill a seat left vacant by the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who held the post for slightly over thirty years. Butler is a native of Magnolia, Mississippi and a graduate of South Pike High School and Jackson State University. Butler is a former labor leader and is the president of EMILY’s List. EMILY’s List is an American political action committee (PAC) that aims to help elect Democratic female candidates in favor of abortion rights to office. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was an EMILY’s List endorsed candidate, and the PAC “helped reelect” her as governor. Butler was the leader of the largest labor union in the state of California for close to 15 years. She also acted as an advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris during the 2020 election and a partner at a top-flight political consulting firm. She had recently moved to Maryland, but re-registered to vote in California (she has a residence there as well) before being sworn in by her friend Kamala Harris on Tuesday at the Capitol.

Born May 11, 1979, Butler is a native of our own Magnolia, and she “grew up in a working-class home,” according to The New York Times. Magnolia locals remember fondly her parents, Lonnell and Sarah Butler, and she is the youngest of their three children. Her father died when she was 16 years old, and her mother worked multiple jobs to support her family after his death, later moving to Georgia. She told Elle magazine that her family was not a family that talked politics, but a family that talked about how to be “of service to others.” She was a graduate of South Pike High School in 1997 in Magnolia where she maintained a 4.0 GPA. She is the first person from Magnolia, Mississippi to hold a national Senate position. She is also the first South Pike graduate to do the same. She then went to Jackson State University in Jackson, where she graduated in 2001, majoring in political science and government. According to the LA Times, some of her college professors lived through the civil rights movement. These professors communicated to her a “drive for activism and a commitment to social justice.”

As the U.S. House devolved into chaos Tuesday over the future of the speakership, the mood on the other side of the Capitol over in the Senate was described as “decidedly more buoyant” as Butler was sworn in to replace the late Dianne Feinstein, who died last week. Butler entered the chamber to cheers from her family in the gallery, surround by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., as she was sworn in by Vice President Harris.

“This is a historic moment for the Senate, for California, and for the entire country,” Schumer said from the floor following the swearing-in. “Sen. Butler is only the third Black woman in American history to serve in the United States Senate. She’s the first openly lesbian senator from California, and she’s the first openly LGBTQ senator of color to serve in this body. Today, the Senate takes another step toward fully reflecting our vibrant democracy. I know that our old colleague is looking down at this moment with pride now that her seat is in good hands,” he added, referring in his final sentence to the late Senator Feinstein.

Butler becomes the first Black woman in the Senate since Harris left in 2021. She will serve in an interim role until a senator is elected through a special primary to finish Feinstein’s term, which is up on January 3, 2025. No date has been announced for the special primary.

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