Gov. Jerry Brown has picked Los Angeles congressman Xavier Becerra to replace outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris when she heads to the U.S. Senate next month.
The nomination comes after a presidential election that threatens to undermine several California initiatives, including extending rights to undocumented immigrants and fighting climate change. If Becerra is confirmed by the state Legislature, he would be the state's first Latino attorney general.
"Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said. “I'm confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”
Becerra said he will bring a "breadth of experience" to the powerful attorney general's office if his nomination is confirmed by what is expected to be a friendly Legislature. He cited many of the governor's top priorities -- advancing energy policies, protecting health care security and continuing to lead on criminal justice reforms -- as his own.
"My sense is that California is going to be very busy both advocating things it believes in and defending the things it has done," he said. "We are lucky to live in a forward-looking state, one that has always tried to be on the cutting edge, and I don't want that to stop. So, as the state's chief law enforcement officer and the attorney of record for our state government, I want to make sure I am there to both defend and advance those interests."
Although he has never run for statewide office, Becerra, 58, is widely seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Before getting elected to Congress in 1992, he served in the California Assembly. He ran an unsuccessful race for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001 and was a key campaign surrogate for Hillary Clinton during this year's presidential race.
Becerra was born in Sacramento to working-class immigrants from Mexico. He said his personal experience will inform his work and that protecting the rights of immigrants -- and the hopes of California's immigrant children -- will be a top priority.
"I am the son of immigrants, the first in my family to have a chance to get a four-year college degree -- I know what so many families go through in struggling to give their kids a chance. And my sense is I am going to take those experiences growing up in a family of hard workers and try do everything I can to be their advocate and be their defender," Becerra said.
He said his parents "never could have dreamed that their son would now be the incoming attorney general for the state of California."
"That's powerful," he added. "We are a forward-leaning state because there are a whole bunch of kids who are growing up with parents like mine who want to know that there's a future they can have in the state."
In tapping Becerra, Brown chose someone with a strong chance of hanging on to the office past the governor's term, which ends in two years. Becerra is well-known in the state's largest population center -- Los Angeles -- and has experience raising money, both key considerations for any statewide run. While the congressman wouldn't say whether he plans to run for attorney general in 2018, it seems likely that was one of Brown's key considerations.
State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is already running for the office.
Many high-profile Democrats praised Brown's choice, including leaders of both houses of the Legislature -- indicating Becerra will have an easy path to confirmation.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León thanked the governor for "having the vision and wisdom," to nominate Becerra.
"As California’s top cop, I know he will fight with ferocity to uphold the civil and human rights of every Californian and to make our children safer, our communities stronger and our justice system fairer," de León said. “This is also the perfect matching of man and moment, given that California’s prosperity and people are currently under threat by a hostile Trump administration. Xavier will serve as a guardian of the constitution and an ultimate check and balance against the forces of division and scapegoating that are mobilizing in Washington."
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also praised Becerra's "tenacity" and "long record of public service."
And Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, called the congressman "the perfect choice."
"As California propels forward on smarter approaches to criminal justice, climate change, civil rights, immigration and health care, the governor's nomination is judicious and timely," Newsom said. "I know Xavier to be a thoughtful and effective leader, with a keen legal mind and a passion for giving a voice to the voiceless. Our state demands such leadership to counter the torrent of regression represented by the president-elect, and California must continue to forge ahead and unify against the injustices of the past that the Trump administration has threatened to renew.”