Editorials

Brown picks Becerra, draws a line against Trump

Rep. Xavier Becerra is Gov. Jerry Brown’s choice for attorney general.
Rep. Xavier Becerra is Gov. Jerry Brown’s choice for attorney general. Associated Press file

By selecting Rep. Xavier Becerra to be California’s next attorney general, Gov. Jerry Brown is making clear that he will stand up against whatever Donald Trump’s administration might fling at this state. Not that there was much doubt.

Brown made a smart and level-headed choice. Becerra is a savvy, accomplished and down-to-earth politician, who understands the ways of Washington and California’s policies and politics.

Becerra had considered running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer, but, as it happens, wisely thought better of it. He will replace Attorney General Kamala Harris, who succeeded Boxer in a landslide.

Assuming he is confirmed by the Legislature, a sure bet, Becerra will arrive in office as Harris departs next month, well-equipped to defend this state’s interests. He will be Brown’s ally on a range of issues, including environment, climate change, water and immigration.

In a brief interview with a Sacramento Bee editorial board member, Becerra offered a partial list of what will be on his to-do list: environment, clean energy, immigration, criminal justice and consumer protection. California is “going to need a chief law enforcement officer to advance those positions and protect them,” he said. “I know how to do the fight.”

Becerra has made clear that he will defend the rights of the children of undocumented immigrants to remain in California, tweeting last week: “#DREAMers are some of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. We stand with you & are ready to fight for you.”

The coming years will be interesting and turbulent for California, and Californians are going to need a good lawyer. Becerra should fill that role well.

He has taken to challenging Trump, tweeting after Trump floated the bogus notion that “millions” of people voted illegally: “Once again, #DonaldTrump leaves us no choice but to question whether he’s fit to be Commander-in-Chief.”

Becerra, 58, almost certainly will run for election as attorney general in 2018. As the incumbent, he would have the advantage in what likely will be a crowded field. If he were to prevail, he would ensure that Brown’s legacy extends well into the next governor’s tenure.

A native of Sacramento and a McClatchy High School graduate, he went to Stanford and to Stanford Law School. He worked briefly as a deputy attorney general in the Los Angeles office before winning an Assembly seat in Los Angeles in 1990. When a congressional seat opened in 1992, he ran for it and won, and steadily rose to become the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House.

In recent years, he has been a regular on cable news shows, but is not so much of a creature of the Beltway that he has forgotten his roots. Becerra regularly returns to Sacramento, where his parents reside.

Having worked in the office of attorney general, albeit briefly and nearly 30 years ago, Becerra should bring an appreciation of its important work. The attorney general has the authority to launch criminal and civil investigations, to bring suits and criminal charges, and to shape the law by framing arguments to the California Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court.

The vast majority of the deputies are career civil servants who are accomplished in their areas of expertise. He should show himself to be a steward of the office by striving to bring those deputies’ pay to parity with other government lawyers, including lawyers who work for city attorneys’ offices in some large cities.

Becerra, who called the nomination a “whirlwind,” seemed genuinely surprised by the choice. Brown showed, once more, that he is nigh-on impossible to predict. People who claimed to know who the front-runners were to replace Harris had no clue. Becerra was on no one’s short or long lists of potential nominees.

In the coming years, California will be living in interesting and perhaps turbulent times. Californians could use a good lawyer. Becerra should fill that role well.

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