SACRAMENTO/SAN FRANCISCO – California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that he has chosen Filipino American California Assemblymember Robert Rob Bonta as the state’s next Attorney General to fill the seat vacated by Xavier Becerra, who was recently sworn in as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Filipino and Asian American community immediately lauded Governor Newsom for his decision coming as it is while threats and hate crimes are being committed at historic level against them.
In a statement from the State Capitol sent to Philippine News Today, Governor Newsom said he will submit Bonta’s nomination to the California State Assembly and Senate for confirmation which is widely expected.
Bonta, 49, who got his law degree from Yale University, will become the first Filipino American to serve as California Attorney General. Already, California has a Filipino American Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the person of Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye who was nominated to her post in 2010 by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Newly installed Vice President Kamala Harris, an Asian American, served as District Attorney in San Francisco and then Attorney General before she was elected United States Senator representing California.
Newsom said that throughout his career in public service, Assemblymember Bonta has taken on big fights to reverse historic injustice – many affecting communities of color. “He has been a leader in the fight to reform our justice system and stand up to the forces of hate,” he said.
“Rob represents what makes California great – our desire to take on righteous fights and reverse systematic injustices,” said Governor 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.”
Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who was born in Quezon City when martial law was declared in the Philippines and migrated to US with his family while he was two months old, 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.
“Thank you, Governor. I am humbled by the confidence you have placed in me,” said Bonta after Newsom made public his nomination.
“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,” Bonta said.
“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,” he added.
Governor 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.
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.
The Bontas live in the East Bay with their three children and dog Lego.
Here’s Bonta’s speech, “Justice for all Californians,” upon his nomination:
“Thank you, Governor. I am humbled by the confidence you have placed in me. And I would like to thank my wife Mia and my kids for always being by my side.
I stand here today on the shoulders of giants. People like the Asian & Filipino activists who assembled here to save the International Hotel in 1977. They were joined in solidarity by LGBT, Latino and Black brothers and sisters in the fight for their homes and the survival of their community.
Forty-five years ago, my mom helped lead that protest. And today, she is here to see a Governor nominate her son to be California’s first Filipino American Attorney General.
My parents – they are my heroes. They were activists who marched for civil rights in Selma and advocated for democracy in the Philippines. When I was a few months old, they joined Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to organize exploited farmworkers in the Central Valley for better pay and working conditions.
They instilled in my siblings and me a commitment to making the world a better place. They taught me to call out – and root out – injustice whenever I saw it. That’s why I decided to become a lawyer for the people, because I understood that a crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us.
Inspired by characters like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and the stories of the farmworkers our family had known, I knew the law provided the best path to make a positive difference for the most people.
After serving as a deputy city attorney in San Francisco for almost a decade, I was fortunate enough to be elected by the people of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro to the State Legislature.
In the Assembly, I have focused on how our state can fix systemic injustices – taking on big polluters, fighting for a fairer criminal justice system, protecting consumers and defending our communities from the forces of hate. As your Attorney General, I won’t back down in pursuing justice for all of our residents.
Government should work for the people – not the powerful – and as Attorney General, I will make it my mission to hold the powerful accountable when they cheat Californians and abuse the public trust.
Thank you again, Governor, for this awesome responsibility and honor. I intend to make you, my family, and the people of California proud.”