Gov. Jerry Brown has tapped House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) to be the next attorney general of California. He will succeed Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.
Becerra, 58, has served 12 terms in Congress and was making a bid to become the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when Brown called him unexpectedly to offer the job.
"It's a phenomenal opportunity," Becerra said. "It means I get to be home a lot more."
Becerra, who is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, would be the state's first Latino attorney general.
He worked in the Civil Division of the attorney general's office from 1987 to 1990 before entering Congress. Becerra earned a law degree from Stanford Law School and a bachelor's degree in economics from Stanford University.
He said in an interview Thursday morning he had always wanted to return to the office.
Becerra, if confirmed, would be the first attorney general appointed by a governor since Thomas Lynch, who was tapped by former Gov. Pat Brown in 1964.
The choice will no doubt send political shock waves through California because Becerra was not on any of the widely circulated lists of picks. Before Nov. 8, the conventional wisdom had been that the governor would choose a caretaker, perhaps even a career staffer who would simply carry out the office's functions through the 2018 elections.
Becerra must be confirmed by the state Senate and Assembly, both handily controlled by Democrats.
The office of attorney general is perhaps second only to the governor in power, with broad authority to file sweeping legal action and defend California law.
“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant — in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said in a statement. “I'm confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”
A vocal advocate for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, Becerra was briefly floated as an option for vice president or a cabinet position. With Clinton's loss Nov. 8 and no upward mobility available in House leadership, Becerra's future political career was unclear.