March 24, 2021 at 5:00 pm PDT | by Brody Levesque
Newsom picks Assemblyman Rob Bonta as California Attorney General
Alameda Assemblymember Rob Bonta (Screenshot via KCRA NBC 3)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he has nominated Alameda Assemblymember Rob Bonta as the next California Attorney General, filling the seat vacated by Xavier Becerra, who was recently sworn in as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Bonta will become the first Filipino American to serve as California Attorney General. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the California State Assembly and Senate within 90 days.

Bonta has a track record as a leading advocate for criminal justice reform who has campaigned to abolish the death penalty and eliminate cash bail for many offenses.

“Rob represents what makes California great – our desire to take on righteous fights and reverse systematic injustices,” said Newsom.

“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. And most importantly, at this moment when so many communities are under attack for who they are and who they love, Rob has fought to strengthen hate crime laws and protect our communities from the forces of hate. He will be a phenomenal Attorney General, and I can’t wait to see him get to work,” the Governor added.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta was elected to the California State Assembly’s 18th District in 2012, where he represents the cities of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro. He became the first Filipino American state legislator in California’s then 160-plus-year history.

The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus Chair Asm. Evan Low, Vice Chair Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman issued a joint statement on Newsom appointing Assemblymember Rob Bonta as Attorney General;

“The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus is incredibly pleased with Governor Newsom’s decision to appoint Assemblymember Rob Bonta to the position of Attorney General. During his time as a State Assemblymember, Mr. Bonta has been a steadfast ally to the LGBTQ+ community and a leader in calling for criminal justice system reform. We have no doubt Mr. Bonta will guide the California Department of Justice with honor and integrity.”

In an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon, Equality California’s Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur reflected on the Governor’s choice; 

“Governor Newsom has made a fantastic choice to serve as California’s first Filipino attorney general and to fill the very big shoes that Secretary Becerra leaves behind as he heads back to Washington. I’m excited for my friend Rob Bonta, who has been a dedicated partner to Equality California over the years and will make an exceptional attorney general. Throughout his career, Assemblymember Bonta has demonstrated his commitment to protecting civil rights, safeguarding our California values and advancing justice for all.

“Now more than ever, California needs an attorney general who will stand up against the racist violence and discrimination that we’ve seen directed at Asian Americans across our state and the nation. Assemblymember Bonta’s appointment to serve as the state’s top law enforcement official sends a powerful message that California is committed to protecting our API communities and securing racial justice and equity for all. I look forward to our continued partnership in creating a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people — and for the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ Californians belong.”

A child of social justice movements, Rob Bonta’s fight for justice is hardwired in his DNA.

Bonta grew up the son of activists. His mother, Cynthia, a proud Filipina, immigrated to California in the 1960s by a three-week boat ride. His father, Warren, who grew up in Ventura County, was committed to service and social justice from a young age. As a student, Warren joined Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights organizing in Alabama to pass the Voting Rights Act. Warren and Cynthia were working as missionaries in the Philippines when Rob was born, training young people to serve the needs of rural Philippine villages through service, community organizing and ministry.

Shortly after leaving the Philippines, the Bontas moved to a trailer in La Paz, in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Bakersfield and served in the headquarters for the United Farm Workers movement. Rob’s parents worked alongside Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Philip Veracruz, organizing Latino and Filipino farmworkers for racial, economic and civil rights. His dad worked in the front office and helped set up health clinics for the farmworkers, while his mother worked at the daycare, Casa de Nana, to support farmworker organizer families. Rob’s padrino, or godfather, Jose Gomez, was the Executive Assistant to Cesar Chavez.

It was here in La Paz, surrounded by other UFW families, that Rob’s parents gave him his first lessons in right and wrong and taught him that everyone had an obligation to speak out when another person is treated unfairly.

Growing up, Bonta had been inspired by characters like Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird” to pursue justice through the law, and reflecting on the stories of the farmworkers his family had known only strengthened that resolve. Throughout college and in his community work, he saw injustice and the power to right wrongs through the law, and after college, he was accepted to Yale Law School. It was also at Yale that he met his wife Mia, who he calls “his partner in life and in service.”

After law school, Bonta moved back to California and went into private practice, working pro-bono to protect Californians from exploitation and racial profiling. A few years later, Bonta decided to pursue his passion for public service and put his legal experience to work to help his community full-time. Bonta served nine years as a Deputy City Attorney in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, representing the city and its employees, before running for local office in Alameda County. 

At the State Capitol, Bonta passed major reforms that reversed long-standing injustices.

In 2012, Bonta became the first Filipino American in California history to win election to the Legislature, representing Assembly District 18 in the cities of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro. He quickly became a statewide leader in the fights for racial, economic and environmental justice, advancing reforms that put California on the cutting edge. In the Legislature, Bonta: 

Outlawed For-Profit Prisons in California: Bonta authored legislation that made California the first in the nation to ban for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers.

Led Major Sentencing Overhaul Effort: Following statewide marijuana legalization, Bonta authored the California law to automatically expunge and modify criminal records for people convicted of minor marijuana charges. 

Took on Big Polluters: Bonta authored major environmental justice legislation and has been a leader in the fight against climate change and to ensure every community equitably benefits from our green economy. 

Passed Nation’s Strongest Statewide Renter Protections: Bonta led the fight to pass statewide protections for renters, ultimately resulting in the nation’s strongest protections against wrongful evictions. 

Fought to Strengthen Hate Crime Laws & Protect Communities: Bonta has introduced a number of bills to improve hate crime statutes, support victims of hate violence, and build bridges between law enforcement and targeted communities.

Protected Immigrant Families from Deceptive ICE Tactics: Bonta authored first-of-its-kind legislation requiring immigrants to be informed of their rights before speaking to ICE agents.

Sought to End Predatory Bail Laws: Bonta co-wrote the law that sought to end the racist and predatory for-profit bail system. 

Required Independent Investigations of Unarmed Deaths: Bonta co-authored the law that required an independent investigation when there is a death of an unarmed civilian by law enforcement.

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