Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday appointed Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta as California attorney general, picking a leading advocate for criminal justice reform who has campaigned to abolish the death penalty and eliminate cash bail for many offenses.
If confirmed by the state Legislature, Bonta, a resident of Alameda, will be the first Filipino American to serve as California attorney general, having also set the milestone for the state Assembly when he was elected in 2012, representing a San Francisco Bay Area district that includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro.
Newsom’s appointment fills a vacancy left by Xavier Becerra’s departure to become U.S. Health and Human Services secretary in the Biden administration after he was confirmed Thursday by the Senate.
“Rob represents what makes California great — our desire to take on righteous fights and reverse systematic injustices,” Newsom said Wednesday. “Growing up with parents steeped in social justice movements, Rob has become a national leader in the fight to repair our justice system and defend the rights of every Californian.”
Bonta said he was humbled by the confidence placed in him by Newsom.
“I became a lawyer because I saw the law as the best way to make a positive difference for the most people, and it would be an honor of a lifetime to serve as the attorney for the people of this great state,” Bonta said in a statement. “As California’s attorney general, I will work tirelessly every day to ensure that every Californian who has been wronged can find justice and that every person is treated fairly under the law.”
Bonta’s appointment comes just days after a group of Asian and Pacific Islander leaders called on the governor to appoint an attorney general who would address incidents in which Asian Americans have been targeted for racist attacks.
“Assembly member Bonta’s legal, legislative and lived experiences make him the best choice to represent the diversity of this state,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and chairman of the eight-member Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, in a letter to Newsom last month that called the appointment “a major step towards the equitable representation of California’s fastest growing racial and ethnic groups, Asian Pacific Islanders.”
Bonta, who is married and has three children, is the Assembly assistant majority leader and serves on committees overseeing spending, communications and health .
In the Legislature he has led efforts to change the state’s criminal justice system, including a bill now pending that would mostly eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and many nonviolent, low-level felonies.
It is his second attempt on the issue. In 2018, Bonta was co-author of Senate Bill 10, which would have ended the money bail system to address equity issues in the criminal justice system by reducing incarceration of low-income people before trial. But the bail industry qualified a referendum on the measure and voters rejected the changes last year.
Last year, Bonta called for prosecutors to be required to recuse themselves from the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement misconduct if their election campaigns accept financial contributions from law enforcement unions.
Bonta also supported Newsom’s 2019 order for a moratorium on executions in California. That same year, Bonta co-authored Assembly Constitutional Amendment 12, which would have placed a measure on the state ballot to repeal the death penalty, although the bill did not advance.
Bonta also voted last year to pass Assembly Bill 1506, a law that requires the state attorney general’s office to investigate police shootings that result in the death of an
As a lawmaker involved in worker protection bills, Bonta had support for the attorney general post from groups including Teamsters Joint Council 42, Northern California Carpenters, the California Faculty Association, United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Federation of Teachers.
Bonta was born in Quezon City in the Philippines, he said. His parents decided to move with him to California when he was 2 months old, acting ahead of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law, he said in a biographical account.
Bonta’s parents worked as organizers for the United Farm Workers of America, and he recalls a childhood living in a trailer in La Paz in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Bakersfield, close to the home of César Chávez, the founder of the group, an experience that he said gave him a close-up view of the struggles of agricultural workers.
He said he was influenced by his father, who was also involved in the civil rights movement in the South.
Bay Area NewsCaliforniaPoliticssan francisco news
If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/