Vowing to make California a model of progressive leadership for the entire country in the coming years, Democrat Xavier Becerra on Tuesday passed his first hurdle to becoming the state’s next attorney general when a special Assembly committee recommended his confirmation by the full Assembly on a 6-3 partisan vote.
The friendly hearing offered few challenging questions for Becerra, even from the Republican lawmakers who ultimately voted against him, but did spark some reflective moments that illuminated more personal motivations behind Becerra’s positions. Becerra will take over the Department of Justice on April 4 unless the Senate or the Assembly reject him before then, a highly unlikely scenario given the Democratic makeup of the Legislature. The full Assembly is scheduled to vote on Friday.
Democrats on the committee largely prodded Becerra on his willingness to serve as a warrior against the incoming Trump administration in what Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, described as a “looming long and ferocious and hard-fought legal battle with bloodshed stretching from the Golden State to Washington, D.C.”
Becerra was eager, promising to defend the state’s advances on issues from immigrants’ rights to environmental protections while pushing for further strides at the national level.
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“Everyone – and I mean everyone – who plays by California’s rules deserves to know: ‘We’ve got your back, ” he said.
Gov. Jerry Brown dropped by at the start of the hearing to praise Becerra’s readiness for the “big battles ahead.” He selected Becerra, a congressman from Los Angeles, to be California’s chief law enforcement official in December, after former Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.
“You have before you an outstanding candidate that can certainly champion the causes that we believe in, but do it in a way that can win the respect and the confidence of the people of California,” Brown said.
Discussing racial bias in policing, a controversial topic that has spurred legislation in California, Becerra shared that, as a teenager, he had once been stopped by an officer while driving with two other Latino friends. Released without being cited for anything, Becerra believed that he had been profiled because of his race. He said re-establishing community trust in police needs to start with law enforcement showing respect to residents.
“I’m bringing my own personal experience, biases, to this job,” Becerra said. “I’m not going to hide that. And I will tell that to any sheriff or any police chief as well. We have to do a whole lot more.”
Becerra also frequently cited his immigrant parents and the values they instilled in him as an inspiration for how he would do the job of attorney general. Pressed on whether he would write fair titles and summaries for ballot initiatives, which Republicans criticized Harris for not doing, Becerra called his parents his “secret weapon.”
“I’ll have my parents making sure I don’t do it the wrong way either, because they want to make sure that I continue be someone who people will respect,” he said.
At his budget news conference later, Brown expressed disappointment about the Republican votes against Becerra.
“I hope that isn’t some signal of Washington disease spreading west,” he said. “I am looking for collaboration with the Republicans as well as the Democrats.”
Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said he wanted to hear stronger support from Becerra for a proposed federal law that would impose jail time for immigrants caught entering the country illegally after being deported and for institutions in California that feel their religious liberties have been infringed by laws expanding abortion access and gay rights. But he said he would follow up on Becerra’s offer during the hearing to grab a beer and talk further.
“I appreciate that he’s open to a conversation,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t have that with Kamala Harris.”