SACRAMENTO — Xavier Becerra says he’s as surprised as anyone that Gov. Jerry Brown tapped him to be the state’s new attorney general, filling the seat left vacant by Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate.
The 12-term member of Congress says his acceptance is bittersweet because of his long tenure in Congress where he is the Democratic Caucus Chair. But he says he also looks forward to working at the state level as California’s top law enforcement officer.
His close ties to the Democratic Party hierarchy sets him up for possible clashes with the new Trump administration. He has championed gay marriage, affordable health care, immigrant rights and global warming issues, which align closely with Gov. Brown’s views and that of other mainstream Democrats.
“If you want to take on a forward-leaning state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, well then come at us,” said Becerra.
It’s also a message to the Trump presidency.
“Clearly by elevating a Hispanic when Donald Trump has taken some of the stands he’s taken, particularly in the immigration issue, is a pretty powerful statement,” said public affairs consultant Leo McElroy.
He is familiar with the workings at the state Capitol, serving a short stint as assistant attorney general 26 years ago and serving one term in the state Assembly. He is also a native of Sacramento.
“Hollywood Park Elementary School, Joaquin Miller Junior High, C.K. McClatchy High School…I lived just south of Hughes Stadium, it was a great neighborhood and used to ride my bicycle after school all over the time,” said Becerra.
His mother is from Mexico and his father was a laborer who still live in Sacramento. The Standford Law School grad said it gave him an appreciation for working families.
“If I’m helping people like my parents, then I’m doing a good job, if I’m working hard for people who work hard, then I’m doing a good job,” said Becerra.
He said leaving his long-time seat in the House of Representatives is bittersweet but said it will be good to work on behalf of all of the people of Sacramento.
The legislature will likely confirm his appointment after getting praise Thursday from the leaders of both the Senate and Assembly, both members of the Latino Legislative Caucus. That gives him a leg up in running for two additional four-year terms at attorney general.
But his party credentials also make him a viable candidate to run for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat if she retires in 2018. Becerra says he’s excited for now to get started on his new job, but did not rule out a run for the seat in two years.
“Ask me about it later,” he told reporters.