By Alberto Garcia
California Governor Jerry Brown has selected Congressman Xavier Becerra to become the State’s new Attorney General, filling the vacancy left after Kamala Harris won her campaign for the United States Senate in this month’s election.
Becerra, a Los Angeles congressman since 1992, must still be confirmed by both the California Assembly and Senate, but no one doubts he will have the votes necessary to secure the appointment.
If appointed as expected, Becerra will become the first Latino to serve as the state’s top law enforcement official. Becerra is currently the second-highest ranking Latino member in the House of Representatives.
Becerra received both his law and undegraduate degrees from Standford University.
Prior to his election to Congress, Becerra served for two years in the California State Assembly, and before that, he served three years as a Deputy State Attorney General.
Governor Brown expressed his full confidence in Becerra during the announcement of his appointment.
“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant — in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress, and as a deputy attorney general,” Governor Jerry Brown commented in a statement released by his office. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”
The Attorney General is the state’s chief law enforcement official as the head of the Justice Department, and also the public’s lawyer, serving to prosecute criminals, suing companies for law violations, and defending the state in lawsuits. The Attorney General also defends the environmental laws of the state, enforces civil rights laws, and helps victims of identity theft, mortgage-related fraud, illegal business practices, and other consumer crimes.
The appointment of a Latino as Attorney General comes at a critical time as Donald Trump readies to take office in January. Many expect the new president to attempt to change immigration policies, try to repeal Obamacare, loosen off-shore oil drilling restrictions, and weaken California’s strong environmental policies.
Within hours his selection, Becerra pushed back on President-elect Trump, warning him not to attempt to weaken California’s progressive laws
“We know the true value of diversity, and we fight for what we believe in,” Becerra told reporters in a conference call. “If you want to take on a forward-leaning state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, come at us.”
Congressman Becerra won his own reelection to Congress this month where he garnered more than 77.2 percent of the vote. With his new appointment, Becerra will vacate his seat and a special election will be called to elect his replacement.
Becerra did not engage in speculation about his future prospects, instead forcing on his nomination and confirmation process. If confirmed, Becerra would serve out the remaining two years of Harris’ term, then he could run for election for a full four-year term in 2018. Becerra would also be eligible for a second term under the state’s term limits law.
This appointment, though, is sure to create other waves throughout California politics. Becerra’s immediate rise to a statewide office would now make him a viable candidate for Governor in 2018, a race that already includes several prominent Democrats, including Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Newsom and Villaraigosa have been positioning themselves for the Governor’s race for years. Faulconer only recently became a viable contender after his special election to Mayor in 2013, and his reelection in 2016.
The position of Attorney General in California has, in the past, been a stepping stone to the Governor’s office. Edmund “Pat” Brown, after having served as Attorney General, was elected Governor in 1958 and again in 1962. George Deukmejian served as Attorney General for four years immediately before his election as Governor in 1982. And the current Governor, Jerry Brown, son of former Governor Pat Brown, also served as Attorney General before being elected Governor in 2010, but Brown had previously served as Governor from 1975 to 1983.
Before this week, Becerra was not considered a top contender for the appointment. He had been a vocal campaign supporter of Hillary Clinton, and was on the short list of possible running mate for her. But after her loss, Becerra’s political future was unclear. He was considered a front- runner for selection as the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, but, given the Republican control of Congress, his position would not have been a very powerful one.
Becerra’s selection was greeted enthusiastically by leading Democratic politics.
“He has great tenacity and he respects the rights of all Californians — much-needed qualities for an attorney general given the troubling times ahead,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said of Becerra after the announcement Thursday.
Los Angeles Congressman Tony Cardenas, who served closely with Becerra, praised him.
“Many of the values that we stand by in California will be under attack in the next few years, and Chairman Becerra is the fighter I want in our corner,” Mr. Cardenas said.
The vacancy in the position of Attorney General will happen when Kamala Harris is sworn in as a US Senator on January 3, 2017. Governor Brown will then make the appointment, and the Legislature has 90 days to confirm him.