State’s biggest election this year could be for AG
SACRAMENTO— The most contentious and closely watched California election in 2022 is likely to be the race for attorney general, where voters will choose in June from the liberal incumbent who was appointed to the job last year, three unheralded challengers and an openly gay career prosecutor whose campaign could hinge on the public's new fears about crime.
For state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, the timing of his first statewide campaign could be challenging. The race coincides with increased scrutiny of recent criminal justice reform efforts, a juxtaposition that his opponents see as an opportunity to pin the blame for rising crime on Democrats. They believe that new leadership at the California Department of Justice will strengthen law and order and bring political balance back to Sacramento.
Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped Bonta last year to be the first Filipino American to serve as California attorney general after then-Atty.
Gen. Xavier Becerra was appointed U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.
Before his appointment, the Democrat spent eight years in the state Assembly focused on efforts to modify the criminal justice system to favor rehabilitation over long incarceration. He cowrote a law, later overturned by voters, that aimed to end cash bail in California, and another that banned for-profit private prisons. In 2020, he supported a law that requires the state to investigate certain officer-involved killings, a program he now oversees as attorney general.
Bonta faces the challenge of being "the incumbent, but not the incumbent who was elected," said Wesley Hussey, a Sacramento State political science professor, possibly forcing the Democrat to spend much of his first statewide campaign defending his record in the Legislature.
Already, Bonta's opponents have tried to characterize him as a far-left politician of the same ilk as two of the state's most
embattled local prosecutors, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón and San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin. Both men face recall efforts.
"There's a long list of things that can legitimately be talked about with his criminal justice record," Hussey said of Bonta. "Winning with that record, and winning [as] attorney general, puts himself in a better spot to win reelection than just being chosen by a governor who seems very partisan."
Bonta faces two Republican challengers along with Sacramento Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, a career prosecutor who ditched her GOP registration in 2018 and is running as a "no party preference" candidate.
The attorney general goes into the race with significant political advantages, including a nearly $5.2-million war chest, according to campaign finance records, and the backing of the powerful California Democratic Party. More than 46% of voters are registered Democrats, compared with 23.9% registered as Republicans and 22.8% as unaffiliated independents. Democrats have built a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature over the last decade and have won every statewide election since 2006, leaving little room for Republicans to regain their political relevance.
And Bonta has sought to deflect his opponents' efforts to depict him as soft on crime.
"Public safety is, and has been, job No. 1, 2 and 3," he said Wednesday during a news conference.