Dan Walters

Jerry Brown jolts California politics with Becerra choice

When Gov. Jerry Brown chose Los Angeles Rep. Xavier Becerra to succeed Kamala Harris as the state’s attorney general Thursday, he gave California politics a jolt of high-voltage electricity, to wit:

▪ As Becerra ascends to an office second only to the governorship in authority, he immediately becomes the most visible Latino political figure in the nation’s most populous state with a wide-open pathway to the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and perhaps even national office.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Whatever he does about climate change, Becerra, as the son of immigrants, will certainly become a symbol of resistance to President-elect Donald Trump’s declared intention to crack down on illegal immigration. And he’ll be positioned to use his legal powers for that resistance – and raise his national profile.

▪ Conversely, Brown may have strangled state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones’ political career. Jones had already declared his candidacy for attorney general in 2018, hoping either for a Brown appointment to fill out Harris’ term or a caretaker appointment that would leave the office up for grabs.

Becerra would be a shoo-in to win a full term in 2018, unless Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires and he tries for the Senate – an option he did not rule out in talking to reporters Thursday. If Jones wants to continue in politics, therefore, he probably must find another office.

▪ Once he resigns from Congress, Becerra’s seat, representing the heart of Los Angeles, will be filled via special election sometime early next year, touching off a scramble among L.A. politicians.

Within an hour of Brown’s announcement, former Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who had hinted earlier in the week he might run for Democratic national chairman, declared his candidacy for Becerra’s congressional seat, apparently hoping to clear the field.

Becerra’s 34th Congressional District overlaps portions of legislative seats occupied by other politicians, however, including the president pro tem of the state Senate, Kevin de León.

De León will be forced out of the Senate by term limits in 2018, and his ambition for higher office is palpable. However, he apparently is taking a pass on Congress, saying of Becerra in a statement, “I look forward to working with him side-by-side to defend California’s progress every day for the next two years.”

With de León out of the picture, Pérez may have a clear shot at Congress, given the hierarchical nature of Latino politics in Los Angeles. But in theory, at least, Sen. Holly Mitchell and Assemblymen Jimmy Gomez and Miguel Santiago, as well as Los Angeles City Councilan Gil Cedillo, could join the hunt.

In turn, were Becerra’s seat to be filled by a state legislator, his or her seat then would be filled with another special election.

The game of musical offices could continue for most of the next year.

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