Rob Bonta confirmed as California’s first Filipino American attorney general

Surrounded by his family, Assemblymember Rob Bonta on Wednesday, March 24 was nominated by Governor Gavin Newsom to serve as California’s next attorney general.  | Photo courtesy of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation

IT’S official: California now has its first Filipino American attorney general.

The state Legislature on Thursday, April 22 confirmed Assemblymember Rob Bonta as the next chief law enforcement officer, a month after he was nominated by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The 48-year-old progressive Democrat received 29-6 votes in the Senate and 62-0 in the Assembly, where he has served since 2012 as the first Fil-Am state legislator, representing the East Bay areas of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro.

“I am extremely humbled, deeply appreciative and very, very honored. I am clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead for the state of California, the Department of Justice,” Bonta said.

He vowed to hold police accountable for misconduct during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, April 21, which came a day after ex-police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges in the murder of George Floyd.

“We need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities,” Bonta said during his testimony before the Senate Rules Committee. “Accountability is part of that trust.”

He called gun violence “America’s disease,” but said that he respects the Second Amendment and responsible gun ownership and backs “commonsense gun safety policies that make us safer.”

“My focus is on those who will do harm, on those who have been responsible for mass shootings who have taken lives of our fellow Californians and those across this country. My focus is on ending what I earlier described as America’s disease and reducing the death and hurt that comes from gun violence,” Bonta said.

He also was asked about drug addiction, which he said should be treated “with care and compassion, not criminalization.”


Newsom nominated Bonta as attorney general on Wednesday, March 24, making the announcement from the International Hotel Manilatown Center in San Francisco, a site of historic significance to the Fil-Am community and Bonta’s family as his mother Cynthia had organized against evictions at the residential hotel.

“Rob represents what makes California great — our desire to take on righteous fights and reverse systematic injustices…He will be a phenomenal Attorney General, and I can’t wait to see him get to work,” the governor said.

The 48-year-old Fil-Am’s ascension to the top post came after outgoing Attorney General Xavier Becerra was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 18 to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

A grassroots campaign within the Filipino American community — and the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community — started last December in a bid to get Bonta appointed following President Joe Biden’s nomination of Becerra as health secretary.

Groups, including Fil-Am advocacy organizations, lawyers associations and elected officials, sent endorsement letters to Newsom’s office and organized virtual press conferences amplifying Bonta’s work in the legislature.

They argued that his experience would be a fit to address the state’s challenges, which include recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights movement against systemic racism and the rise in hate crimes, including against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

“That will be one of my top priorities — to make sure that we protect those who are facing the forces of hate and that we hold accountable those who perpetrate hate violence against others in our community,” Bonta said on March 24.

Bonta, who was born in Quezon City, Philippines, moved to the U.S. at a young age and spent his early years living in a trailer in La Paz, in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Bakersfield, California.

His activist parents Cynthia and Warren worked with Filipino and Latino farmworkers and labor leaders, like Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

His mother immigrated to California in the 1960s through a three-week boat ride, while his father, who grew up in Ventura County, was committed to service and social justice from a young age. As a student, the older Bonta joined Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights organizing in Alabama to pass the Voting Rights Act.

Bonta’s parents were working as missionaries in the Philippines when he was born, training young people to serve the needs of rural villages through service, community organizing and ministry, according to the governor’s office.

“Those lessons stuck with me, and it became clear to me that an injustice against one is an injustice against all. It made me want to become an attorney to fight for people who’ve been wronged, who’ve been hurt, who’ve been harmed, who’ve been mistreated, and be their champion,” Bonta said following his nomination in March.

He obtained a law degree from Yale Law School and clerked for Judge Alvin W. Thompson of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut before moving to San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest.

Prior to his election to the state Assembly in 2012, Bonta was San Francisco’s deputy city attorney for nearly a decade, and served as director of the Alameda Health Care District and then part of Alameda’s City Council as vice mayor.

Bonta will serve as attorney general through 2022 and face his first statewide election next November.

“I know what it takes to win a campaign,” he previously said. “I know this one’s different…I feel I have the infrastructure in place and I will be moving from day one with the reelection in mind, because it’s so proximate in time.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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