WITH California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tapped to join the incoming Biden administration, several Filipino American organizations are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint Assemblymember Rob Bonta to the high office.
The impending vacancy comes as President-elect Joe Biden announced Becerra as his nominee for secretary of health and human services.
Bonta — who made history as the first Fil-Am to serve in California’s legislature — was 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.
During the 2020 November election, Bonta 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.
With possible picks circulating for the Golden State’s next top lawyer, several Fil-Am organizations are gathering support to show Newsom why he should consider the 48-year-old Fil-Am lawmaker.
The National Filipino American Lawyers Association, along with six Fil-Am affiliate organizations in California, sent a letter to Newsom this week, recognizing that the attorney general would be facing pressing challenges of today — including the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights movement against systemic racism and the rise in hate crimes, including against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Amid the protests over the summer, Bonta introduced a bill to classify racially motivated 911 calls as hate crimes. He also authored 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 California.
In October, he announced a plan to introduce legislation that will require elected prosecutors to recuse themselves from the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement misconduct if they accept financial contributions from law enforcement unions.
“While the AAPI community celebrates Harris’ election as the first American of Asian and Black descent to serve as Vice President of the United States, California will be losing one of its highest-ranking AAPI statewide officials when Harris vacates her U.S. Senate seat. We submit that it is, therefore, critical for Governor Newsom to consider an AAPI candidate for a similarly high-ranking statewide office,” NFALA’s letter said. (AAPIs make up around 15% of California’s population, with the Fil-Am population among the largest.)
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 the United 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 one term on the Alameda City Council.
KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress similarly expressed their support, and is assembling a letter to send to Newsom signed by a coalition of AAPI organizations and community leaders.
“He has distinguished himself as a groundbreaking and effective legislator, leader, and strong community advocate, especially for California’s most vulnerable populations,” Mary Tablante, national co-chair of the Washington, DC-based group, said in a statement.
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma also publicized her endorsement, saying Bonta would be “an exemplary choice to protect and serve the people and interests of California.”
Other candidates floating around for attorney general include Rep. Eric Swalwell, Rep. Adam Schiff, Assemblyman David Chiu and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.
The governor is also tasked with naming someone to take over Vice President-elect Harris’ Senate seat. Secretary of State Alex Padilla is rumored to be a top contender for the latter so should that appointment happen, Newsom would have yet another seat to fill.