Ready to de­fend state’s val­ues

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - OPINION -

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.

Rich Pe­dron­celli / As­so­ci­ated Press

Xavier Be­cerra is well re­ceived at the State Capi­tol.

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