California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he has selected Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the seat of Sen. Kamala D. Harris once she is sworn in as vice president.
Mr. Padilla will become the first Hispanic person to hold a Senate seat from the state where Hispanic people make up about 40% of residents.
“His appointment will make history,” Mr. Newsom said. “I can think of no one better to represent the state of California as our next United States senator.”
Mr. Newsom’s decision had been heatedly debated, with various wings of the Democratic coalition saying the governor owed deference to their desires.
Black leaders in particular had urged him to pick a Black woman to replace Ms. Harris, whose has Black and Indian heritage. Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee had been suggested as options.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a gay-rights groups, asked for an LGBTQ appointment to the seat.
But Hispanic groups had said the state’s demographics indicated a Hispanic pick was in order.
“This marks a long-overdue milestone for the Latino community, and it’s a bold step towards having a Senate that looks like the communities it serves,” said Nathalie Rayes, president of the Latino Victory Fund.
Mr. Padilla will be the fifth Hispanic senator in the chamber currently, joining Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Robert Menendez.
The Harris seat will be up for election in 2022.
Mr. Padilla, 47, is the son of Mexican immigrants.
He said his parents were “finally moved to apply for citizenship” in response to the state’s Proposition 187, the 1990s-era policy denying undocumented immigrants from obtaining state services.
Mr. Padilla came up through Los Angeles politics, serving as a city council member, then later winning a seat in the state Senate and then the secretary of state post in 2014.