One of these people could be Newsom’s pick for California attorney general
President Biden’s appointment of Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services secretary has given Gov. Gavin Newsom an opportunity to fill the vacancy created when Becerra resigned last week as California attorney general to move to Washington.
The attorney general oversees the California Department of Justice, which has 4,500 attorneys, investigators, peace officers and other workers; advises the state government on legal issues; and defends the state in court when it faces litigation.
The attorney general also assists local prosecutors and police agencies with criminal investigations, and prosecutes offenders of state laws including those that protect the environment, charities and gun safety. The job comes with an annual salary of $182,189, and the position is next up for election in 2022.
Supporters of many of those being considered have held rallies and news conferences urging the governor to pick their favored contender.
Here are some of the attorneys being touted for the job:
Contra Costa County Dist. Atty. Diana Becton
Diana Becton has been the district attorney for Contra Costa County since 2017 and is supported by the California Legislative Black Caucus. She also was one of six attorneys backed for the job by the Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus.
The Black Caucus notes Becton is the only Black woman serving as district attorney in California, adding that her support for progressive policies makes her “the transformative candidate for these turbulent times.”
Becton, 69, was appointed as district attorney in 2017 and was elected to a full term in the post a year later. She had previously served 22 years as a judge in Contra Costa County, where she was elected as presiding judge.
She was part of an effort seeking to end the use of the death penalty at the federal level and supported Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2019 moratorium on executions in California.
A resident of El Sobrante, Becton grew up in Oakland, attending public school there before graduating from the Golden Gate University School of Law.
In 2015, Becton earned a master’s degree in theological studies at the Pacific School of Religion.
As district attorney, Becton oversees an office of some 200 lawyers, investigators and support staff.
Her initiatives have included a “Clean Slate Day,” when people receive assistance cleaning up their criminal records.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda)
Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda became the first Filipino American state legislator in California when he was elected to the Assembly in 2012, representing a Bay Area district that includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro.
Bonta, 48, was one of four names recommended for the attorney general job by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, although one of those officials, Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said he was not seeking the post and supported Bonta’s appointment.
A leading voice opposing the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Bonta is the Assembly assistant majority leader and serves on committees overseeing spending, communications and health issues.
In the Legislature, he has led efforts to change the state’s criminal justice system, including a bill now pending that would mostly eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and many nonviolent, low-level felonies. It is his second attempt on the issue. In 2018, Bonta was co-author of SB 10, which would have ended the money bail system to reduce incarceration of low-income people before trial, but the bail industry qualified a referendum on the measure and voters last year rejected the bail changes.
Bonta’s parents worked as organizers for the United Farm Workers of America, and he recalls a childhood living in a trailer close to the home of César Chávez, the founder of the group, which he said gave him a close-up view of the struggles of agricultural workers.
He received a law degree from Yale Law School after working his way through Yale College, where he captained the soccer team.
Before his election to the Assembly, Bonta served as deputy city attorney for San Francisco, and also worked as a private attorney handling cases involving racial profiling and other mistreatment.
State Sen. Anna M. Caballero (D-Salinas)
Democratic state Sen. Anna M. Caballero from Salinas was elected in 2018. Her district includes San Benito County and portions of Stanislaus, Madera, Fresno, Merced and Monterey counties.
She is one of six women supported for the job by the Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus.
Caballero, 65, previously served from 2010 to 2016 as secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency during the administration of then-Gov. Jerry Brown. She served in the state Assembly from 2006 to 2010, and again from 2016 to 2018.
Born in Arizona, Caballero’s relatives, including her father, worked in copper mines.
Caballero graduated from UC San Diego before earning a law degree from UCLA. Afterward, she moved to Salinas to work as an attorney for the nonprofit group California Rural Legal Assistance, where she advocated for farmworkers.
Before running for state office, Caballero served for seven years on the Salinas City Council, including a stint as the city’s first female mayor in 1998.
In the Legislature, Caballero introduced legislation to ease the construction of farmworker housing and to make sure low-income communities had access to clean drinking water.
She helped create a program with the California Department of Justice to reduce gang violence.
Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Torrance)
Democratic Rep. Ted W. Lieu of Torrance was a leading national figure in opposition to former President Trump.
Lieu made news this year when, during the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, the congressman sent a text message to Democrats who served with him on the House Judiciary Committee urging the immediate drafting of articles of impeachment. Lieu was among the delegation from the House of Representatives that delivered the impeachment documents to the Senate.
Lieu was elected to the U.S House of Representatives representing a Los Angeles County district in 2014, and has been reelected since then, including last year.
He previously served in the California Senate from 2011 to 2014, and the state Assembly from 2005 to 2010. As a legislator, Lieu authored bills banning gay conversion therapy for children as well as the use of tanning beds for minors.
He got his start in politics in 2002, when he won a seat on the Torrance City Council.
Lieu was born in Taiwan. At age 3, he immigrated with his family to the United States. He later worked in a family gift store.
In 2010, Lieu ran unsuccessfully in the primary for state attorney general for the seat vacated by Jerry Brown, who was elected governor. Lieu placed fourth. Kamala Harris, who was then the district attorney in San Francisco, went on to win the attorney general’s race in the general election.
Lieu has bachelor’s degrees in computer and political science from Stanford University and received his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1994.
California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu
California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu is supported for the attorney general’s post by a large number of state leaders, including former UC President Janet Napolitano and UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Liu, 50, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011.
He had previously been nominated by President Obama to serve on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but Liu and the president withdrew the nomination after it stalled amid opposition from Republicans in the U.S. Senate.
Liu has been critical of capital punishment, writing in a 2019 concurring opinion affirming a death judgment that he shares concerns long voiced by judicial leaders about the challenges of the death penalty.
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu grew up in Sacramento before earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University. Liu also attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship and earned a master’s degree in philosophy and physiology.
He graduated from Yale Law School and clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, Liu served as professor of law and associate dean at the UC Berkeley School of Law, and has expertise in constitutional law and education law and policy.
Liu was previously married to Ann O’Leary, who was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff until she left late last year.
Santa Clara County Dist. Atty. Jeff Rosen
Jeff Rosen has served for 25 years as a prosecutor in Santa Clara County, and was elected as district attorney in 2011. He oversees an office with 196 attorneys and 440 other employees. He previously worked in private practice, specializing in commercial litigation.
Rosen received an undergraduate degree from UCLA, where he majored in philosophy. He received his law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law.
Rosen has been active in support of criminal justice reform measures, and was a leader in the opposition last year to Proposition 20, which would have rolled back changes that have helped California reduce the state’s prison population by more than one-third, or 50,000 people, in the last decade.
Last July, Rosen announced he was implementing a series of social justice reforms including a decision to no longer seek the death penalty.
Rosen also helped lawmakers draft SB 10 in 2018, which sought to eliminate the money bail system, and he supported Proposition 47, which reclassified drug possession and minor theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
He has also supported diversion programs for nonviolent offenders and expunging low-level drug crimes from criminal records.
High-profile cases handled by his office include prosecution of former county Supervisor George Shirakawa for theft of public funds and Stanford swimmer Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman. His office also prosecuted members of the Nuestra Familia criminal street gang for murder, drug trafficking and robbery.
Rosen’s office also has a special unit to investigate wrongful convictions.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank)
Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank is a former federal prosecutor who rose to national prominence as part of the congressional team that presented the case for impeaching then-President Trump in 2020.
Schiff is being supported for the attorney general job by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among other Democrats.
He was the lead among seven House managers of the first impeachment trial, which ended in February 2020 with the Senate voting to acquit President Trump on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Schiff, 60, took on the role of lead inquisitor during the investigation into whether Trump tried to improperly influence Ukrainian officials to help him battle his domestic political rivals.
He is also a former chairman of the California Senate Judiciary Committee and former member of the House Judiciary Committee. Schiff is currently chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the nation’s intelligence agencies.
A prolific fundraiser for fellow Democrats, Schiff is being touted by supporters as someone who could mount a strong campaign for statewide office in 2022.
A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Schiff served six years in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, where his cases included prosecuting the first FBI agent ever to be indicted for espionage.
He was elected to Congress the first time in 2001 and has won reelection several times, most recently in November. His 28th Congressional District includes much of Hollywood, and he has been an advocate for the entertainment industry.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg
Darrell Steinberg was elected mayor of the state capital in 2016 and was reelected last year to a term that ends in 2024.
Steinberg, 61, entered politics by winning a seat on the Sacramento City Council in 1992. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1998, serving in that house until 2004 as representative of a Sacramento-area district. In 2006, he was elected to the state Senate.
He served as the president pro tem of the California Senate from 2008 to 2014.
In the Legislature, Steinberg was part of the leadership that grappled with significant budget problems during the Great Recession. He played a leading role in developing a plan to reduce the state prison population in response to a federal court order that found overcrowding violated the U.S. Constitution.
He also was the author of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, which voters approved in 2004. The measure created a 1% income tax on personal income in excess of $1 million to fund state mental health programs.
As mayor, Steinberg has focused on economic development, affordable housing and youth programs, among others.
A friend of the governor who endorsed Newsom for the job, Steinberg is also a Newsom appointee to the California Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Born in San Francisco, Steinberg is a graduate of UCLA and the UC Davis Law School.
Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur
Rick Chavez Zbur heads Equality California, a statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization that has played a leading role in many issues including the drive to legalize same-sex marriage in California.
Newsom was urged to appoint Zbur in a letter in January from 80 LGBTQ leaders including Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), Los Angeles School Board member Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles City Council member Mitch O’Farrell and Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege.
“Appointing a highly qualified, openly gay Latino Californian to serve as the nation’s third openly LGBTQ+ attorney general and the first openly LGBTQ+ attorney general of color would further cement your legacy of leadership as an unyielding ally to the LGBTQ+ community and one of the key figures in the LGBTQ+ movement,” the leaders wrote.
Taking over as head of the organization in 2014, Zbur was involved in successful efforts to pass state legislation requiring LGBTQ cultural competency training for law enforcement officers, guaranteed protections for LGBTQ parents and their children, and that provided for property tax equity for domestic partners.
The group also supported efforts for the state to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide healthcare to immigrants and enact criminal justice reform.
Last April, Zbur announced his candidacy for Los Angeles city attorney in the 2022 election.
Zbur, 64, also has worked as an environmental attorney, serving on the board of the California League of Conservation Voters for more than 20 years, including six years as board president. He is one of four candidates for attorney general supported by the league’s chief executive officer, Mary Creasman.
Born in a rural agricultural community in the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, Zbur graduated from Yale College and Harvard Law School before moving to Los Angeles in 1985 and joining the law firm Latham & Watkins, where he worked for more than 25 years, becoming a partner in 1994.
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