SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced that he will submit to the State Legislature the nomination of 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.
The nomination is subject to confirmation by the State Assembly and Senate within 90 days.
Bonta will become the first Filipino American to serve as California attorney general. Throughout his career in public service, he has taken on big fights to reverse historic injustice – many affecting communities of color. He has been a leader in the fight to reform the justice system.
“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.”
Bonta was elected in 2012 to the 18th Assembly District, 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.
“Thank you, Governor. I am humbled by the confidence you have placed in me,” said Bonta. “I became a lawyer because I saw the law as the best way to make a positive difference for the most people, and it would be an honor of a lifetime to serve as the attorney for the people of this great state. As California’s attorney general, I will work tirelessly every day to ensure that every Californian who has been wronged can find justice and that every person is treated fairly under the law.”
Newsom made the announcement at the historic International Hotel in San Francisco, a site where Asian and Pacific Islander Californians famously rallied in 1977 to save homes of elderly residents and preserve their community. The protests helped fuel a rise in AAPI political activism.
Bonta’s mother, who helped organize the protest at the International Hotel, was on hand to witness the governor making his selection.
A child of social justice movements, Bonta’s fight for justice is hardwired in his DNA. He 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, he 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 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. Bonta’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. Bonta’s padrino, or godfather, Jose Gomez, was the executive assistant to Chavez.
It was in La Paz, surrounded by other UFW families, that Bonta’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, whom 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, he 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. 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:
• Authored legislation that made California the first in the nation to ban for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers.
• Following statewide marijuana legalization, authored the California law to automatically expunge and modify criminal records for people convicted of minor marijuana charges.
• Authored major environmental justice legislation and has been a leader in the fight against climate change and to ensure every community equitably benefits from the green economy.
• Led the fight to pass statewide protections for renters, ultimately resulting in the nation’s strongest protections against wrongful evictions.
• Introduced a number of bills to improve hate crime statutes, support victims of hate violence, and build bridges between law enforcement and targeted communities.
• Authored first-of-its-kind legislation requiring immigrants to be informed of their rights before speaking to ICE agents.
• Co-wrote the law that sought to end the racist and predatory for-profit bail system.
• Co-authored the law that required an independent investigation when there is a death of an unarmed civilian by law enforcement.
The Bontas live in the East Bay with their three children and dog Lego.