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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment of five-term Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, as attorney general is inspired. Bonta, who moved from the Philippines to California with his family as an infant and later graduated from Yale law school, would be the first Filipino American to serve as state attorney general if confirmed by the Legislature. He is 49.
Given the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans, Bonta’s selection to be the leader of law enforcement in the nation’s largest state takes on an even greater significance. But Bonta would have been a strong choice without that terrible context. For years, he has been one of the state’s leading fighters for a fairer criminal justice system, including as a critic of cash bail. Voters killed a bail reform law last year that he had co-authored and convinced the governor to sign, but Wednesday the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned parts of the bail laws that Bonta had targeted. He has also targeted the conflicts of interests affecting district attorneys who take contributions from law enforcement unions and then are expected to make impartial decisions when police misconduct is alleged.
This is in sharp contrast with his predecessor, Xavier Becerra, who is now the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, and who was overly protective of law enforcement at the expense of public access to misconduct records.
Bonta has a legal but dubious habit of giving money from his campaign treasury and his nonprofit foundation to organizations that employ his wife. But he did obtain letters from those groups saying the contributions wouldn’t be used on her salary or benefits, in accordance with state law. Even that shows he knew the rules and set out to follow them. His focus on equity and justice will only get stronger.