Elected officials from California's Asian and Pacific Islander communities urged Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to appoint an attorney general of Asian descent, saying it's critical to have a top law enforcement official who understands and will combat anti-Asian violence.
Newsom, a Democrat, will appoint California's next attorney general if Xavier Becerra is confirmed as expected this week as the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.
The news conference came the day after a man was accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three massage businesses in the Atlanta area. The county sheriff said it was too early to know if the attack was racially motivated.
There has been a wave of assaults targeting Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, including in California, which is home to the nation's largest Asian population, at more than 6 million people.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland is considered one of the top contenders and would be the state’s first Filipino attorney general if approved.
“He understands as the son of immigrant parents what it’s like to come to this country when English is not your first language, for example, when there is mistrust of law enforcement," state Treasurer Fiona Ma said.
Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco said California's next attorney general will need to be a leader for “API Americans everywhere."
“We have to continue to build bridges of trust between our API communities and law enforcement," he said.
An API attorney general could help bridge strained relations between immigrant groups and law enforcement. API elected officials have proposed a 24-hour hate crime hotline and the creation of a racial bias task force of immigrant advocates, mental health workers and educators to better address violence against Asians, Chiu said. Newsom recently signed legislation sending $1.4 million in funding to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center.
Sacramento City Council member Mai Vang said the state’s next attorney general must “understand the trauma and hurt our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are feeling."
Several Latino elected officials joined the call in a show of solidarity, with speakers noting Newsom recently boosted the representation of Latinos by naming former Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, to the U.S. Senate. He then appointed former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber as the state's top elections official, making her the first Black woman to the hold the job.
“Today I am proud to stand with my API brothers and sisters and calling on Governor Newsom to be courageous once again, to do what is just," Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo said.
Others who are considered top contenders for the job include Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff. Other API officials, including state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, Assemblyman Ash Kalra and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu have also expressed interest or received support.
The governor will make his appointment after Becerra is confirmed, Newsom’s spokesman Jesse Melgar said.
“He is considering a range of qualified candidates," Melgar said in an email.