Mia Bonta Enters Race to Replace Husband Rob in State Assembly

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Alameda Board of Education President Mia Bonta, second from right, stands with her family while Governor Gavin Newsom announces Assemblyman Rob Bonta's nomination for California attorney general during a press conference in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. Mia Bonta is the latest candidate in the race to replace her husband in the state Assembly. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Alameda Unified Board of Education President Mia Bonta launched a campaign on Monday for state Assembly, joining a field of candidates vying for an East Bay seat currently held by her husband, Rob Bonta, who was tapped to be California's next attorney general.

Bonta's name identification will be a key asset in a special election that could be held this summer if Rob Bonta is confirmed. But in an interview with KQED, Mia Bonta vowed "to earn every single vote" in the campaign.

"My background and experiences as a child advocate and as a youth advocate and as an advocate for working families stand on their own," Bonta said. "And I'm extremely qualified to serve the communities of the East Bay in the state Assembly."

Bonta said she would lean on her experience in managing the reopening of public schools in the city of Alameda this year. Elementary school children in the district began a return to classroom instruction back in March. Middle and high school students are set to begin hybrid learning next week.

"That experience of having to deal with COVID and considering reopening our schools is really the drive behind why I decided to run, in a lot of ways," Bonta said. "People have been in pain, they've been struggling. The incidence of mental health needs have increased substantially for our students and our families."

If elected, Bonta said she'll prioritize education and housing affordability.

"These issues ... are personal for me, I grew up and my family moved 13 times in 16 years," Bonta said. "I have built into me the experience of feeling that housing insecurity, and I know the impact that has on one's ability to be able to get work, to keep work, to keep an education, to be focused on an educational pathway."

Since 2012, District 18, which includes most of Oakland, along with the cities of Alameda and San Leandro, has been represented by Rob Bonta, a Democrat.

His nomination to be the state's attorney general has created an opening in one of the state's most liberal districts, where nearly two-thirds of voters are registered as Democrats.

Three candidates have already made plans to run for the seat: San Leandro school board member James Aguilar, social justice attorney Janani Ramachandran and Alameda City Councilmember Malia Vella.

In special elections that have seen low levels of voter turnout in the past, candidates with familiar names typically enjoy a marked advantage.

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Just last week, Dr. Akilah Weber won a special election for a state Assembly seat in San Diego, replacing her mother, new Secretary of State Shirley Weber. With turnout at 21.2% of registered voters, Weber won 50.1% of votes cast.

Additionally, more than a half-dozen legislators have a family member who is also serving or previously served in the Legislature.

Bonta also enters the race with endorsements from Weber, State Treasurer Fiona Ma and the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Vella has been backed by Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, along with two of Bonta's colleagues on the Alameda school board: Jennifer Williams and Heather Little.

If Rob Bonta is confirmed as attorney general, a special election to fill his seat could take place in June or July. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, a runoff between the top two finishers would take place later in the summer.