Alex Padilla first made history in December 2020 when he was selected by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to the seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris. He became the state’s first Latino U.S. senator, long overdue in a state where the demographic represents nearly 40% of the population.
On Tuesday the junior senator made history again, winning his seat outright and becoming the first California Latino elected to the chamber. Padilla was elected to complete the remainder of his current term, as well as a full six-year term. With just over 40% of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning, he was leading Republican challenger Mark Meuser by nearly 1 million votes. In his speech, Padilla said “the voice of the people was heard tonight.”
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“Thank you, California, I am so humbled, and so honored, by the trust that you have placed in me,” Padilla continued in remarks Tuesday evening. “Now representing California in the United States Senate has been, and continues to be, the upmost honor. The upmost honor.”
Padilla, the son of immigrants from Mexico, was joined onstage by his family, including his dad. “For 40 years, my father worked as a short order cook. For the same 40 years, my mother, Lupe, worked cleaning houses.” Becoming emotional, Padilla said his mom was “no longer with it, but I know she’s watching proudly from up above.”
“Now through their honest and hard work, and with their modest wages, they raised three children in the proud, working class community of Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley, and its through their example that I learned the values of hard work, service to others, honesty, and integrity,” he continued. “Now without my family, their love, and the support our community, this night, this victory, would not possible.”
Padilla, 49, first shared his parents’ immigration and working-class history in his inaugural floor speech in March 2020. “As the senator from the most populous and most diverse state in the nation—and as the first Latino senator from California—let me just say: what a great country this is,” he remarked at the time.
“Think about that: In one generation our family has gone from being immigrant cooks and house cleaners to serving in the United States Senate,” he continued. “That’s the California Dream—that’s the American Dream … I think about my parents often. And I think about all the hard-working people in our state and in our nation who are hurting right now. I rise today on their behalf.”
He has kept to his word when it comes to advocating for hardworking Californians, this past summer becoming one of just two U.S. senators (the second was New Jersey’s Cory Booker) to accept an invitation to work alongside farmworkers for one day.
“Today I experienced just a small taste of the demanding work that farm workers do every day to keep millions of families in America fed,” Padilla said. “I was here for just one day, but the people I worked alongside are here every day toiling, often under the hot sun, to make sure there’s food in our stores and on our tables.”
Padilla’s very first piece of legislation after filling the seat was the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would put up to 5 million essential workers on a pathway to legalization. He has fervently made the case that passing humane immigration legislation isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s beneficial to our nation at large.
“’We have a hell of a fight ahead of us, and I’m heading back to the Senate ready to help lead that fight,’ Padilla said at a Democratic election party at the Hollywood Palladium, as it was starting to fill up with supporters,” The Los Angeles Times reported. “He pledged to prioritize job creation, climate change, immigration reform, reproductive rights and the protection of Social Security and Medicare.”
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