SEVERAL Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) elected leaders and organizations are calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Assemblymember Rob Bonta as the state’s next attorney general.
Current Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been tapped to join the Biden administration as the Health and Human Services secretary, creating a vacancy in his seat if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate later this year.
Since Becerra’s nomination last month, Bonta — who was elected to the Assembly in 2012 and became the state’s first Filipino American legislator — has been floated as a top candidate to be the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
The 48-year-old lawmaker in November 2020 was reelected for a fifth term to represent the state’s 18th Assembly district, which covers the East Bay areas of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. He currently serves as the assistant majority leader, and sits on several committees, including appropriations and health.
Bonta was reportedly among the contenders for attorney general in 2017 when Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate. Becerra, then a congressman representing the 34th congressional district in Southern California, was ultimately selected by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Now, a grassroots effort has been brewing to double down on why Bonta is the best choice given his track record as the state grapples with a multitude of issues from the ongoing pandemic to a racial reckoning.
“Not only is he eminently qualified — probably the most qualified — he comes from communities that demand justice, that need this justice,” outgoing Rep. TJ Cox, the first Fil-Am to represent California in Congress, said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, January 6.
Cox added that in addition to the litigation side, Bonta in the top seat would provide “the example to be what you can see.”
Bonta’s appointment would be a win for representation, advocates argued, as California is home to the largest AAPI population in the U.S. with over 5 million. Fil-Ams are among the top two largest Asian ethnic groups in the state with a population of over 1.6 million.
“Rob Bonta’s march from his early days in the labor movement, with his activist parents living across from Cesar Chavez, to now being a potential appointee for attorney general of our great state,” said Pilipino American Los Angeles Democrats founding president and community leader Joselyn Gaega-Rosenthal. “What a special moment for our Filipino and AAPI communities who have eagerly and patiently awaited this kind of moment.”
Bonta, who was born in Quezon City, Philippines, immigrated with his family to California’s Central Valley, where his parents worked for the United Farm Workers of America, organizing Filipino and Mexican American workers. In previous interviews, this upbringing shaped his decision to pursue a career in law and public service.
He obtained a law degree from Yale Law School and clerked for Judge Alvin W. Thompson of theUnited States District Court for the District of Connecticut before moving to San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest. Prior to his election to the state Assembly in 2012, Bonta was San Francisco’s deputy city attorney for nearly a decade, and served as director of the Alameda Health Care District and then vice mayor of Alameda.
“He’s fought for working families addressed inequalities in our criminal justice system, championed tenants and immigrant rights, all while also addressing health care and consumer protection issues. He’s authored significant legislation that promotes and defends our California values of justice, inclusion, equity and opportunity,” Alameda Vice Mayor Malia Vella, who is also Fil-Am, said on Wednesday.
Amid the protests over the summer, Bonta introduced a bill to classify racially motivated 911 calls as hate crimes. His legislation record includes a 2019 bill, which was signed into law by Newsom, to phase out the use of all private, for-profit prisons, including both prisons and immigration detention facilities in the state.
Wednesday’s virtual event also featured remarks from California State Treasurer Fiona Ma; National Filipino American Lawyers Association (NFALA) President Kristy Gonowon; California Asian Pacific American Bar Association President Zathrina Perez; CalAsian Chamber CEO Pat Fong; and KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress boardmember Christian Edlagan.
Support for Bonta has also come from high-profile personalities— from CNN’s Van Jones calling the assemblymember “a leader in the fight to restore justice in CA” to actress Maggie Q who worked with him “in the fight for more inclusive representation in media.”
As Newsom has yet to announce a pick, the grassroots coalition has launched social media accounts to amplify its endorsement in an effort to influence the governor’s decision.