Meet the new California senator actually living in Maryland

On Sunday night, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has picked Laphonza Butler, president of the pro-abortion political action committee EMILY’s List, to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the late Dianne Feinstein.

Newsom’s appointment of Butler is equivalent to a Republican governor’s filling a Senate vacancy with the president of the NRA: It’s pleasing to the base and good for fundraising. It’s no secret, but one thing many people might not know is that EMILY’s List is not named after a woman; EMILY is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” — it “makes the dough rise.” 

Politico reports that Newsom is “making his appointment without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick running for the seat in 2024.” Butler lives in the state of Maryland, which you would think would make her a less than ideal choice to represent the state of California. 

Notice the careful wording in Butler’s tweet from today:

"I’m honored to accept Gov.Gavin Newsom‘s nomination to be U.S. Senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation." 

“A state I have made my home”… in the distant, distant past.

Newsom’s choice of a Marylander to represent California comes after a U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania last year where the electorate worried more about Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s residency than Democratic candidate’s John Fetterman’s health after a stroke that nearly killed him. Exit polls indicated that 51 percent of voters believed Fetterman’s health was good enough to represent the state effectively — good call, everybody, he’s only missed about a third of the votes this year — while only 41 percent of voters believed Oz had lived in the state long enough to represent it effectively.

And yet, we can think of many other races where the length of residency didn’t matter much. Hillary Clinton announced she was interested in running for Senate February 17, 1999.  She was born in Chicago, raised in the in the suburbs, attended Wellesley and Yale, moved to Little Rock, and her senatorial ambitions sprouted in her closing years living in the White House in Washington. She had no real roots or ties to the state; she and Bill bought a house in Chappaqua in September. Few if any New York Democrats cared back then.

Back in 2017, the Washington Post found 20 members of Congress who are registered to vote outside of their districts; in many cases, the district lines moved in the redistricting process, but the member of Congress did not. This was in the context of now-senator Jon Ossoff running in a special House election in Georgia where he couldn’t vote for himself because he didn’t live in the district.

Every cycle, there are new accusations that candidates and lawmakers don’t live in the districts or states they represent. This year we’ve got a state house candidate in Louisiana, the speaker of the house in Tennessee, a state representative in Oregon. New York GOP Congressman Brandon Williams has protesters outside his office because of it. A New Hampshire state representative just resigned because he didn’t live in the district he represents for the past year.

There’s no particular rhyme or reason as to why residency matters a whole lot in some races and is a non-issue in others. I’d argue people care about residency when it gives them one more reason to think the worst of somebody they already didn’t like. Very, very few people lose any sleep about whether everyone in the party they prefer actually lives within the district or state lines.

Some will call this hypocrisy; I think it reflects that a lot of people decide the person they like and then reason backwards. If the guy you like doesn’t live within the district, it’s no big deal, he’s got roots in the community or he lives just across the district line. “He may live over there, but his heart was always over here.” But if the other guy’s house is on the other side of the district line, he might as well be an alien shapeshifter. “He’s not even from here! He’s not one of us! He doesn’t have [insert place name here] values!”

You can see this on all kinds of other issues. Democrats who lambasted Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and John McCain as too old are now just fine with another four years of soon-to-be-81-years-old Joe Biden. Democrats touted John Kerry’s Vietnam experience as evidence he would be a good president in 2004, and four years later shrugged at McCain’s. Mitt Romney’s wealth was ipso facto evidence that he had to be up to some shady financial shenanigans — he has a Swiss bank account! — but the vast financial fortunes of Mark Warner, Don Beyer, Nancy Pelosi, Jared Polis and J.B. Pritzker are just evidence of their hard work and keen judgment.

For a whole lot of people, the traits of their current preferred candidate just happen to perfectly align with the traits they think are most important in a leader — but if you don’t like them, just wait. Because eventually they’ll have a different preferred candidate, and then those most important traits will change accordingly.

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