Meet Rob Bonta, California’s New Attorney General

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Meet Rob Bonta, California’s New Attorney General

Good morning.After months of speculation, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced Rob Bonta, a Democratic state lawmaker, as his pick to become th

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Good morning.

After months of speculation, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced Rob Bonta, a Democratic state lawmaker, as his pick to become the next attorney general.

“Rob represents what makes California great — our desire to take on righteous fights and reverse systematic injustices,” Mr. Newsom said Wednesday afternoon in a statement.

The job has been officially open since Xavier Becerra was confirmed last week as the head of President Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services, where he’ll help lead the nation’s pandemic response.

[Read the full story about the announcement.]

But from the moment the president selected Mr. Becerra, the political gears started turning.

Mr. Bonta is the governor’s last of three major appointments in the great reshuffling of Democratic power in the state, which was tipped off by the ascent of Vice President Kamala Harris. The vice president — in case you have forgotten, since it was approximately 10,000 pandemic ages ago — was previously California’s junior senator.

In December, Mr. Newsom appointed Senator Alex Padilla to replace Vice President Harris, and Shirley Weber to replace Mr. Padilla as secretary of state.

As my colleague Shawn Hubler reported, Mr. Bonta will be the first Filipino-American to be the state’s “top cop,” and the second Asian-American. (Vice President Harris, of course, was the first.)

Here are answers to other questions you may have about the announcement:

Mr. Bonta is a member of the State Assembly, who has represented the East Bay since 2012.

The son of civil rights activists, Mr. Bonta, 48, was born in the Philippines and grew up in the Central Valley, where his parents, Cynthia and Warren Bonta, helped organize farmworkers alongside Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The family eventually moved to the Sacramento area.

[Read about Larry Itliong and Filipinos’ role in the farmworker movement.]

Mr. Bonta is a graduate of Yale University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and his law degree. He and his wife, Mia Bonta, who is president of the Alameda Unified School District board, met there.

They have three children and live in the East Bay with their dog, Lego.

A former San Francisco deputy city attorney, Mr. Bonta served briefly on the Alameda City Council before running for the State Assembly.

Mr. Bonta called the job “the honor of a lifetime,” in a statement.

“I became a lawyer because I saw the law as the best way to make a positive difference for the most people,” he said.

Picking the state’s top law enforcement officer came with a complex set of considerations — particularly as Californians increasingly call for broad criminal justice reform.

While Mr. Becerra was attorney general, he was known for leading the legal resistance to the Trump administration, suing more than 100 times. But he was also criticized for failing to follow through on promises to hold the police accountable for misconduct.

Mr. Bonta has wide credibility with progressives, many of whom applauded his appointment on Wednesday.

“As a State Assembly member, Mr. Bonta fought to end cash bail and cure the conflict of interest that occurs when elected prosecutors receive financial and political support from law enforcement unions,” the Prosecutors Alliance of California said in a statement. “He is a leader that has dedicated his career to protecting and uplifting vulnerable communities.”

[Read about how the summer’s protests fueled a “tsunami of change.”]

The group of “reform-minded” prosecutors was formed last year and includes George Gascón, Los Angeles’s district attorney, whose election last year was a major victory for progressive activists.

Mr. Bonta is also Asian-American and had the backing of a coalition of lawmakers who called on Mr. Newsom to pick an Asian or Pacific Islander — a call that took on particular urgency after last week’s killings of eight people in Atlanta-area spas, including six women of Asian descent.

“At a time when our communities are facing hate and disturbing patterns of violence, it sends a powerful signal,” David Chiu, a state legislator leading the charge, said in a statement on Wednesday.

As with the jockeying to replace Ms. Harris in the Senate, the field eventually narrowed to three top contenders.

Along with Mr. Bonta, Representative Adam Schiff was angling for the job, with the backing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento’s mayor, was also in contention.

Both men issued statements congratulating Mr. Bonta on Wednesday.

Observers have noted Mr. Newsom’s penchant for history-making political appointments; Mr. Padilla is the first Latino senator from California and Ms. Weber is the first Black woman to serve as California’s secretary of state.

In addition to being a springboard to higher office — alumni include Vice President Harris and former Gov. Jerry Brown — the job is broad. And the attorney general has wide latitude to set his or her own agenda.

[Read more about the power of the attorney general.]

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside, who has worked with Mr. Bonta on the state’s Commission on A.P.I.A. Affairs, told me that as a lawmaker, Mr. Bonta “has been really strong on immigrant rights.”

He pushed for more transparency from law enforcement agencies about their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, and has sought better data collection on Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities — information that advocates have said is crucial for addressing hate crimes and incidences of discrimination.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said he believed Mr. Bonta has an chance to continue that work.

“I think we have an opportunity to see how he would innovate in the role of the attorney general,” he said.

Well, as we’ve mentioned, there’s a significant effort underway to recall Mr. Newsom.

So in addition to appointing an attorney general he believes can win a statewide election in 2022, Mr. Newsom needs a progressive ally.

Additionally, Mr. Ramakrishnan said that record numbers of Asian-American voters turned out in 2020. Mr. Bonta could harness that excitement among Asian-American communities who have long been underrepresented in politics. That’s especially true in California.

[Here’s what to know about the recall election process.]

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)


  • Oakland is piloting a guaranteed income program to combat poverty in the city. Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that 600 low-income families of color, chosen at random, will soon get $500 a month for 18 months. The program follows similar experiments in California and around the country. [The Oaklandside]

Read a conversation from last year with Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, about his push to expand guaranteed income.

  • Protesters and police officers met in a tense standoff over an encampment at Echo Park Lake that has become a flash point in debates over how to help people experiencing homelessness. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • The family of Xiao Zhen Xie, the 75-year-old woman of Asian descent who was attacked in San Francisco last week, said they would donate nearly $1 million raised through a crowdfunding campaign back to the Asian-American community “to combat racism.” [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • A man drove through a rally against anti-Asian hate in Diamond Bar yelling profanities. [ABC 7]

  • 24kGoldn became a pandemic pop star while still a student on scholarship at the University of Southern California. Now, with the music business easing back into more normal operations, it’s time for his real world test. [The New York Times]

  • How honest can Demi Lovato get? The former child star and current pop star reflects on her queerness, her near fatal overdose and her journey. [The New York Times]

Ms. Lovato recently said that she was “California sober.” What does that even mean? [ET]


Over the past year, there have been many attempts to hint at the incomprehensible scale of loss in the pandemic. One is the Rose River Memorial, which is part of a traveling exhibit that will eventually become part of a larger display in Washington.

The exhibit at Christ Cathedral and sponsored by the OC Autism Foundation is made up of 4,600 felt roses symbolizing the deaths of Orange County residents from Covid-19.


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.



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