Ready to defend state’s values
In a long week of nomination hearings, it’s easy to skip one with special importance for California. Xavier Becerra sailed through a friendly panel of Sacramento lawmakers on his way to becoming state attorney general.
Compared to a string of Trump nominees in Washington, Becerra is strolling a petal-strewn path. He won easy approval by a state Assembly panel and is due to get the same from the full Assembly on Friday. Then it’s the state Senate’s turn to complete the no-surprise formalities. That’s the way it goes for a Democrat appointee in blue-state California.
But this easy ascension doesn’t begin to describe what’s at stake. More than any other state, California has a special role in holding back or being flattened by Republican dominance in Washington. Political rhetoric is one thing, but serious lawyering is another.
That burden will fall on Becerra, who faces a milewide battlefront. For years, California lawmakers and voters have veered from Washington’s federal line, carving out home state policies that ventured ahead of national laws. Guns, cannabis, immigration and climate change rules are only a few topics on the us-versus-them list.
What’s different now is this gulf is about to get deeper and wider. Billions in federal aid could vanish if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Deportations could begin that go way beyond California’s immigrant-friendly laws. Export-driven trade may be upended by protectionist barriers. The attorney general as both the top lawyer and law enforcement leader will be pushed as never before.
In his first hearing, Becerra showed both political smarts and deftness that have powered his career as a 12-term Los Angeles-area congressman and the House’s highest-ranking Latino representative. “I’m not going be be out there just to be a thorn in the side of the federal government,” he said. “Everyone — and I mean everyone — who plays by California’s rules deserves to know: ‘We’ve got your back.’ ”
It’s a role his predecessor, Sen. Kamala Harris, understood. For Becerra, the weight could be heavier with Democrats losing the White House along with having minority numbers in the House and Senate.
The Washington front won’t be his only responsibility. California has distinctive problems and tensions that need constant attention. Police conduct, the rollout of recreational marijuana laws, and even the crucial wording of ballot measure summaries all involve the attorney general.
As Becerra nears confirmation, the stakes will only get larger. He’ll need the sunny political support he’s getting now to take on one of the state’s biggest jobs.
Xavier Becerra is well received at the State Capitol.