Politics

Rep. Becerra Named California Attorney General

Highest-ranking Latino in Congress is a player on taxes, immigration

Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., speaks after a September House Democratic caucus meeting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra said Thursday he was stunned to be tapped by California Gov. Jerry Brown for state attorney general, succeeding Sen.-elect Kamala Harris.

“I was not expecting to make this call neither today and certainly not a week ago but I’m glad I’m making it,” Becerra said in a conference call with reporters.

Becerra was mum on details of his conversation with Brown but said he spoke with the governor about the nomination only “very, very recently.” 

“This was very sudden in nature,” Becerra said.

The governor sang the veteran California Democrat’s praises.

“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.”

Becerra, 58, is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress. He was first elected to a Los Angeles-area district in 1992 and is term limited in his Democratic leadership post as caucus chairman.

Becerra had effectively no place to go in House leadership after his two terms as chairman expired. He had announced plans on Tuesday to run for ranking member on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, but Massachusetts Rep. Richard E. Neal has long been considered the heir apparent for that post.

Becerra has been an influential player in congressional immigration debates. He was a member of a bipartisan working group trying to overhaul immigration law in the 113th Congress and has been an outspoken supporter of the Obama administration’s executive actions that would extend legal status to an estimated 4 million people who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or of lawful permanent residents. A federal court has temporarily blocked the implementation of those actions.

As California attorney general, Becerra would have to be confirmed by the state Assembly and Senate after Harris resigns. She was elected last month to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

If confirmed, the 12-term congressman will leave behind a safe Democratic seat that will be filled through a special election and then a top-two runoff, which could be scheduled to coincide with city elections in Los Angeles. 

Within an hour of Becerra accepting the nomination, former speaker of the state Assembly John A. Pérez announced his intention to run. He may not start with the highest name recognition in the area since he served in Sacramento and has been out of power since 2014. But he quickly secured a handful of endorsements from Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among others. 

“In the aftermath of November’s election nationwide, two facts are clearer than ever. The first is that we need to fight harder than ever to protect the progress we’ve made,” Pérez said in a statement announcing his run. “The second is that California is the one place in the country where Democrats know how to win, and the one place in the country where government is working.“ 

Among many other Democrats who could run are Mónica García, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, whom Democrats say EMILY’s List is courting strongly. Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar may start with the highest name recognition and has proven to be a strong fundraiser. 

Assemblymembers Jimmy Gomez and Miguel Santiago are in the mix, as are Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cidello and former Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco. State Sen. Kevin DeLeon, the president pro tempore, could also take a look at the seat since he’s termed out in 2018. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.