Mar 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Filipino American state legislator Rob Bonta named California attorney general

Photo of Rob Bonta's profile

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) nominated Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D) as the state's attorney general on Wednesday, making him the first Filipino American to hold the position in California's history.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are coming under pressure to mirror their constituent bases by appointing more people of color.

  • The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been vocal about a lack of representation in both federal and local offices, particularly after upticks in violence against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic and the Atlanta shootings that killed six Asian women.

Bonta, 48, represents Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro in the state legislature and was one of four names recommended for the position by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, the Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Bonta, who will replace Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, pushed to reform California's criminal justice system.
  • After moving their family from the Philippines to the U.S., Bonta's parents worked as organizers for the United Farm Workers of America. Living close to founder César Chávez gave Bonta a close-up view of agricultural workers' fight for visibility.

What they're saying: "Rob Bonta has been front and center on issues across the spectrum," Newsom said at a press conference on Wednesday. "He's a remarkable person ... A person of character. A person of honor. A person of justice."

"Throughout California history, so many of us have felt the sting of hate and discrimination," Bonta said, citing spikes in violence against Asian people. "I have.

  • "Asian, Latino, Black, Native American, LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, so many of us have been targeted and attacked because of who we are, where we're from and who we love. But that hate has not defined who we are or what we can achieve."

Between the lines: Newsom is trying to fend off a recall campaign and shore up alliances.

  • In recent weeks, Bonta has spoken out against the recall effort.
  • Meanwhile, Asian Americans in national politics are seeking more seats at the table. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono's (D-Hawaii) ultimatum on Tuesday pushed President Biden to commit to tapping more AAPI leaders for high-level administration roles.

Context: AAPI groups in California have pushed Newsom to appoint an AAPI attorney general since January.

The big picture: "More than 22 million people make up the API community nationwide. Approximately one-third of Asian Americans live in California, making up 16% of the population," according to the state's 2020 census.

  • AAPI advocates and elected officials have said that an Asian American attorney general could help mend strained relations between immigrant groups and law enforcement, especially as racism against Asian people continues to plague the country.

What to watch: Bonta's nomination is subject to confirmation by the state’s Assembly and Senate within 90 days.

Go deeper: The number of Asian Americans elected to Congress is at a record high

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