California lawmakers on Thursday approved the state's first Filipino American to hold the top law enforcement job in the nation’s most populous state, saying the progressive Democrat is taking office during a critical debate over racial justice and the changing role of police.
Rob Bonta becomes California's second attorney general of Asian descent, after Kamala Harris. Harris' rise to U.S. senator and now vice president illustrates the prominence of the job.
“It’s the right choice at the right time,” said Democratic Sen. Dave Min. "Our Asian American community is experiencing unprecedented levels of hate and violence. We’ve seen at the same time that our state and nation are grappling with a wide array of challenges on racial unrest, domestic terrorism, a surge in gun violence, and the need for meaningful law enforcement reforms.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, last month nominated Bonta, 49, an assemblyman from the east San Francisco Bay Area city of Alameda, to succeed Xavier Becerra. He resigned to become the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.
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The Assembly approved Bonta's nomination on a 62-0 vote with Republicans abstaining, while the Senate followed on a 29-6 rollcall with three additional Republicans not voting.
GOP Caucus chairwoman Sen. Patricia Bates said Republicans remain concerned about Bonta's progressive track record since he was elected to the Assembly in 2012, but were reassured by his promise "that he is very committed to a bipartisan role on issues that do affect our constituents.”
Republicans didn't support his nomination, Bates said, “but do want to recognize a commitment and a passion that he will bring to this assignment, and we wish him well and we very much look forward to working with him in the coming years.”
Bonta will be up for election with other statewide officials next year.
He takes office during a time of “a very strong examining of our justice system and whether it has really truly been just,” said Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner.
Bonta will be responsible for enforcing laws that the Legislature has recently enacted “through the lens of racial equity,” Skinner said, including a law requiring his office to investigate police shootings that result in the deaths of unarmed civilians.
Bonta said after his confirmation that he views the attorney general as "the people’s attorney.”
“To fight for everyday folks, the vulnerable, the voiceless, the disadvantaged, those who need a champion, those who are hurting, being abused, and to push back and fight back against those in power who are overreaching that power or abusing that power,” he said. "That’s the job.”