California's Attorney General, Rob Bonta, is an Asian-American progressive.
Mr. Bonta, an East Bay assemblyman, has been named by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the remainder of Xavier Becerra's term as US Secretary of Health and Human Services, which began last week.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Rob Bonta, a Democratic state senator and close political ally, to replace Xavier Becerra as attorney general on Wednesday, putting a proponent of criminal justice reform and a growing Asian-American progressive in charge of the state's largest law enforcement agency.
Mr. Becerra was narrowly confirmed as President Biden's health and human services secretary just over a week ago when the announcement was made. It also came at a politically volatile time for Mr. Newsom, who has been under pressure to reinforce his base in the face of a recall effort and to take a strong stand on recent ethnic violence against Asian-Americans.
Mr. Bonta, 48, was born in the Philippines and will be the first Filipino-American to hold the position. He is the son of civil rights activists. Before moving to the Sacramento area, he grew up in California's Central Valley, where his parents helped organize farm workers. Mr. Bonta, who described the appointment as "a once-in-a-lifetime honor," is a Yale University graduate with a bachelor's degree in history and a law degree.
Mr. Bonta, a former deputy city attorney in San Francisco, served on the Alameda City Council for a short time before running for the State Assembly, where he has represented the East Bay since 2012. As a senator, he sponsored bills to end the use of cash bail — a law that was repealed by voters in November — and to phase out the use of private prisons in California. He was also one of the co-authors of a failed constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty.
In a tweet, Mr. Newsom said, “Rob represents what makes California great — our ability to take on righteous battles and undo systemic injustices.” “Most notably, at a time when so many people are being attacked for who they are and who they love, Rob has fought to improve hate crime laws and defend our communities from hate groups.”
After Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian origin, Mr. Bonta will be the state's second Asian-American attorney general. Progressives and organized labor play a vital role in mobilizing Democratic voters in California, and no state's population has a higher percentage of Asian-Americans than Hawaii's, which accounts for around 16% of the population.
Within 90 days, the appointment must be confirmed by the state's Assembly and Senate.
Mr. Becerra, who took office after Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential election, has filed more than a hundred lawsuits against Trump administration actions on issues ranging from immigration to auto emissions standards. With Mr. Biden, a fellow Democrat, now in the White House, allies urged the governor to appoint an attorney general who would support rather than oppose the president's goals.
Democrats who want to reform the state's criminal justice system, which has swung back from tough-on-crime measures in recent years, supported Mr. Bonta. Mr. Bonta shares the governor's opposition to the death penalty and backed a new law requiring him to investigate deadly police killings of unarmed civilians in his capacity as attorney general.
California's attorney general's office is seen as a reliable stepping stone to higher office, with previous holders including Ms. Harris and former Gov. Jerry Brown. As it became apparent that Mr. Becerra, a former congressman, would return to Washington, the competition heated up.
The governor was pressed to name someone who would vigorously prosecute police brutality, while law enforcement groups advocated for a conventional law-and-order candidate, as a new state law granting the attorney general a pivotal role in police shootings heightened interest in the appointment.
In light of this, the Attorney General's vacancy was more of an incentive to disappoint factions than a political prize. Representative Adam Schiff, who has long aspired to statewide office and oversaw Mr. Trump's first impeachment as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had encouraged Mr. Newsom to nominate him. Various groups have urged Mr. Newsom to appoint an African-American, a woman, a member of the L.G.B.T.Q. culture, another Latino, or an Asian-American or Pacific Islander as his successor.
Other candidates' supporters pointed out that Mr. Newsom had already made history with a number of appointments: He nominated Martin Jenkins, an African-American who is openly gay, to the California Supreme Court in November. As Ms. Harris was about to be sworn in, he elected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the remainder of her term in the United States Senate, making him the first Latino to hold that position in California history.
Later that day, he appointed Shirley Weber, a State Assembly member from San Diego, as California's first African-American secretary of state.
If Mr. Bonta is not recalled in a special election due later this year, he will have to run for re-election statewide in two years, as will the governor's appointees for Senate and Secretary of State, as well as the governor himself.
Last year, state ethics watchdogs challenged Mr. Bonta's use of a charity to raise funds for other charities where his wife worked, an aggressive yet legal tactic that caused the author of California's Political Reform Act to propose a change in the law.
Following last week's shooting in Atlanta, a coalition of lawmakers and local elected officials renewed their call for Mr. Newsom to name an Asian-American or Pacific Islander to the role. They said that, in the face of an uptick in anti-Asian abuse and harassment, the state's "top cop" should be aware of the complexities and fears of diverse populations, many of whom do not trust police officers.
They said that California should serve as a model for resolving these issues.
In a virtual news conference, David Chiu, a member of the Assembly, said, "We need leadership across our state and nation to take action." “We must take a stand against hate crimes.”