The attorney general is arguably the second most powerful elected position in California after the governor. AGs enforce the state’s voluminous legal code and wield fearsome prosecutorial powers. It’s a political position, of course, but the best attorneys general pursue justice first — and subordinate their partisan interests.
Unfortunately, California’s two previous “top cops” — current Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Vice President Kamala Harris — initiated highly partisan lawsuits and tilted the scales of justice on behalf of the state’s most-powerful liberal interests.
After President Joe Biden tapped Becerra for that federal post, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Bay Area Assembly member Rob Bonta as attorney general. Although Bonta’s been on the job a relatively short time, he has amassed a solid record as a fair-minded AG — a throwback to the days when the public interest trumped partisan point scoring.
We often disagreed with Bonta’s positions as a lawmaker, but like his even-handed approach as AG. This role suits him. He’s tough on crime, as evidenced by the Department of Justice’s aggressive approach toward smash-and-grab robberies. Yet he’s championed police-accountability measures and advanced sensible criminal-justice reforms.
In an editorial board interview, Bonta was transparent and knowledgeable, someone driven by crime data rather than partisan talking points. “We have to arrest people,” he said, “and make sure there is accountability and consequence.” But he wants to assure punishments are proportionate to the crimes. That strikes the right balance.
The attorney general is responsible for writing titles and summaries for statewide initiatives, but previous AGs abused that power to write those descriptors — typically the only thing voters read before voting — to help allies and hurt opponents.
We’ll keep close watch as his office issues more summaries, but so far he has stuck to his promise to describe ballot measures in a neutral manner. Even Bonta’s main failure speaks well of him. Instead of becoming defensive after his office released personal data of concealed-carry permit holders, Bonta has owned up to the mistake.
Bonta vows to follow the law, not his preferences. After the United States Supreme Court tossed out New York’s restrictions on concealed-carry permits, Bonta instructed sheriffs to revise their procedures. That earned him kudos from some gun-rights supporters.
By contrast, Bonta’s opponent, Nathan Hochman, is something of a train wreck. To appeal to non-Republican voters, Hochman emphasizes his support for abortion rights, opposition to Donald Trump and commitment to enforce all of the state’s gun-control laws.
On everything else, though, he is trying to appeal the harshest conservative forces, as he shamefully tries to link Bonta to controversial progressive district attorneys. Hochman even opposes the state’s new police-accountability laws, including Senate Bill 2, which creates a decertification process for clearly abusive police officers.
Whereas Bonta is forthright, Hochman struggled to answer questions without some legalistic dodge. He supports the current asset-forfeiture regimen, by which police agencies can seize private property without securing an underlying conviction. He vows to intervene in local district attorney decisions, which suggests a willingness to misuse an AG’s authority.
Hochman strikes us as an odd blend of Kamala Harris and old-school law-and-order GOP Attorney General Dan Lungren — a worst-of-both-worlds approach that would expand government power at every turn.
Bonta is a breath of fresh air in the AG’s office and deserves your support in November.