Congressman Xavier Becerra, the Democrats’ highest-ranking Latino in the House and a 24-year veteran of Congress, was appointed Thursday by Gov. Brown to replace state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 8.
Becerra, 58, who will be the first Latino to serve as California’s top law enforcement officer, will formally take over the attorney general’s office next month, when Harris leaves for Washington, D.C.
Becerra saw his chances for upward advancement limited, with the presidency and House in Republican control and the reelection of Nancy Pelosi as minority leader.
“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 written statement announcing the appointment. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”
Becerra’s appointment requires confirmation by both houses of the Legislature to serve out the two years of Harris’ unexpired term. If he is confirmed — a virtual certainty given his fellow Democrats’ supermajorities in both houses — he will be eligible to run for election on 2018 and reelection in 2022.
The attorney general’s office frequently has served as a springboard to the governorship — Jerry Brown and his father, Pat, both served ion the office before winning the governorship. Republican George Deukmejian was attorney general before was elected governor in 1982.
“Governor Brown has presented me with an opportunity I cannot refuse — to serve as Attorney General of my home state,” Becerra said in an email. “As a former deputy attorney general, I relished the chance to be our state’s chief law enforcement officer to protect consumers, advance criminal justice reform and, of course, keep our families safe.”
Becerra, a former one-term member of the state Assembly, is a Sacramento native and the son of immigrants. He got his BA and law degrees from Stanford University. He served on the staff of the state Justice Department for several years, and also served as a close aide to former Sen. Art Torres, who helped launch his political career.
Becerra is “very bright, and he’s excellent bilingually, so he has the ability to frame persuasive arguments for the caucus,” Torres said in an earlier interview. “We’re still very close, we text all the time.”
Becerra campaigned heavily for Hillary Clinton during this year’s presidential election and had been viewed as candidate for a major position in her administration if she had won. He also was on the list of potential vice presidential contenders.
“I don’t think we should be getting ahead of ourselves this quickly,” Becerra told Capitol Weekly at the time. “This will one of the first big decisions she’ll make and there are a lot of great names out there,” he said.
Becerra’s 34th Congressional District, which includes downtown L.A., Chinatown and Boyle Heights, is two-thirds Latino, and 20 percent Asian.
Becerra, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus and fourth in line of the House’s top Democratic leaders, saw his chances for upward advancement limited, with the House remaining in Republican control and the reelection of Nancy Pelosi as minority leader. He discussed leadership and other issues three days before the Nov. 8 election in a Capitol Weekly podcast.
Becerra, who grew up in South Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School, has been a familiar figure on Spanish-language television in California, including Univision and Telemundo, as an advocate for immigrants’ rights.
A check of the records at the state attorney general’s office showed a case in which Becerra served as one of the staff attorneys representing the state in a case involving a teacher who suffered a knee injury and sought disability payments. The Teachers’ Retirement Board denied the request, but an appeals court ruled that the teacher was entitled to the benefits. Becerra was on the attorney general’s legal team.