SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) was confirmed Thursday by the state legislature as California Attorney General, the first Filipino American to hold the position.

Rob Bonta becomes California’s second attorney general of Asian descent, after Kamala Harris. Harris’ rise to U.S. senator and now vice president illustrates the prominence of the job.

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“It’s the right choice at the right time,” said Democratic Sen. Dave Min. “Our Asian American community is experiencing unprecedented levels of hate and violence. We’ve seen at the same time that our state and nation are grappling with a wide array of challenges on racial unrest, domestic terrorism, a surge in gun violence, and the need for meaningful law enforcement reforms.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, last month nominated Bonta, 49, to succeed Xavier Becerra. He resigned to become the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.

The Assembly approved Bonta’s nomination on a 62-0 vote with Republicans abstaining, while the Senate followed on a 29-6 rollcall with three additional Republicans not voting.

GOP Caucus chairwoman Sen. Patricia Bates said Republicans remain concerned about Bonta’s progressive track record since he was elected to the Assembly in 2012, but were reassured by his promise “that he is very committed to a bipartisan role on issues that do affect our constituents.”

Republicans didn’t support his nomination, Bates said, “but do want to recognize a commitment and a passion that he will bring to this assignment, and we wish him well and we very much look forward to working with him in the coming years.”

Bonta will be up for election with other statewide officials next year.

He takes office during a time of “a very strong examining of our justice system and whether it has really truly been just,” said Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner.

Bonta has a long history of fashioning legislation that has targeted hate crimes. He introduced a number of bills to improve hate crime statutes, support victims of hate violence, and build bridges between law enforcement and targeted communities.

Bonta will be responsible for enforcing laws that the Legislature has recently enacted “through the lens of racial equity,” Skinner said, including a law requiring his office to investigate police shootings that result in the deaths of unarmed civilians.

Bonta said after his confirmation that he views the attorney general as “the people’s attorney.”

“To fight for everyday folks, the vulnerable, the voiceless, the disadvantaged, those who need a champion, those who are hurting, being abused, and to push back and fight back against those in power who are overreaching that power or abusing that power,” he said. “That’s the job.”

A longtime supporter of policing reforms, Bonta has not only backed the shooting investigation law, but also laws to end the state’s cash bail system, phase out private prisons and automatically expunge marijuana convictions, although voters rejected the bail change last November.

The co-chairmen of the Assembly’s Special Committee on the Office of the Attorney General, also Democrats, subtly questioned Becerra’s policies and performance in a four-page letter they sent to Bonta before Wednesday’s hearing, asking him how he would run the office.

Assemblymen Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Mark Stone asked in their letter if he would commit to making police misconduct files public, and Bonta faced similar questioning by members of the Senate Rules Committee.

Becerra had balked, saying the police files should come from local law enforcement agencies and not his office. But Bonta said he supported the law as a legislator and would comply.

They asked if Bonta would share the state’s gun database with firearm violence researchers; Becerra again had balked, citing privacy concerns.

And lawmakers in both chambers pressed Bonta on how he would eliminate a lingering backlog in the state’s unique program that seizes firearms from people who bought them legally but are no longer allowed to own them because of a criminal conviction or mental illness.

“We’ve got some challenges,” Bonta said, but “I want to do better.”

He said he wants to work with lawmakers to fill vacancies among special agents who enforce the law and upgrade technology that’s ”a little clunky” and requires that information be manually entered.

He called rampant gun violence “America’s disease.” But he said under questioning by Republican lawmakers that he takes no issue with gun owners’ constitutional rights.

“I believe in commonsense gun safety policies,” he said. “My focus is on those who will do harm.”

The gun-seizure backlog plagued both Becerra and his predecessor, now U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. The office itself has long been a stepping-stone to higher office, including for Harris’ predecessor — former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Becerra spent much of his tenure aggressively fighting the Republican Trump administration, but lawmakers said Bonta’s role is likely to change with a largely cooperative relationship with the Democratic Biden administration.

Bonta is scheduled to take the oath of office on Friday.

 

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