The California Senate unanimously voted in a new leader Monday, formally naming Sen. Kevin de León as its next president pro tem.
The Los Angeles Democrat is scheduled to take the reins of the Legislature’s upper house from Sen. Darrell Steinberg on Oct. 15, Steinberg’s 55th birthday.
Lawmakers lauded the vote for de León as a historic action, marking the first time in modern California history that a Latino has led the state Senate. The last Latino to have the position was Sen. Reginaldo del Valle, who led the Senate briefly in 1883, Steinberg said.
“While history unfortunately will not long remember Pro Tem Del Valle, I can guarantee you that history will remember Pro Tem Kevin de León,” Steinberg said in a speech nominating his colleague for the post, with several Assembly members who are part of the Legislature’s Latino caucus looking on.
Senators cast their vote after an hour and a half of accolades for de León, 47. Colleagues praised him for his determination in pursuing environmental and immigrant-rights policies, his devotion to his daughter and a personal story of growing up with a single mother who immigrated from Mexico.
“Kevin was raised in one of those households that was truly, truly very poor and disadvantaged,” said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, as he recalled their shared childhood in San Diego. “We saw a lot of horrible things. We saw our friends and family members get gunned down.”
Republicans also voiced support for de León.
“When I think about the American dream, I can’t think of anybody who embodies it as much as Senator de León, growing up in the barrio of Logan Heights in San Diego and graduating from Pitzer College,” said Sen. Bob Huff, the chamber’s Republican leader.
De León said he looked forward to cooperating as they continue to work to “improve the human condition.” He pointed out that his childhood of poverty is not unique.
“My story actually is the story of millions of other Californians. Many of them are your constituents, whether they are in South L.A., or Bell Gardens ... or Richmond or Pomona,” he said. “It’s a story of so many of us.”
In a meeting with reporters after the floor session ended, de León said he will work hard in Senate Democrat political campaigns this year to get more Democrats out to vote in November. He said he is hoping to help Democrats restore the two-thirds supermajority they lost this year when three senators were suspended while they fight criminal charges including bribery, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.