California’s first Filipino American attorney general, Rob Bonta, has wasted no time in his first two months in office. With President Trump gone, Bonta has pivoted from his predecessor’s focus on fighting the Trump administration on national issues to addressing problems in our state.
But the attorney general is working against time because he was appointed to his post by Gov. Gavin Newsom and will face an election in 2022 to keep his job.
In an interview for "LA Times Today," Attorney General Bonta joined host Lisa McRee to discuss how he’s refocusing the DOJ’s priorities.
One of the issues Bonta hopes to tackle with urgency is social justice.
“When it comes to addressing racial injustice, we must be impatient for change; we must commit to durable and sustainable change. Whether it be fixing the many broken parts of our criminal justice system that have hurt many people of color, making sure we have police accountability, and protecting communities from anti-AAPI and other violence based on race. People need the California Department of Justice to stand up for them, and that is what we are doing,” said Bonta.
When it comes to holding police accountable, Bonta says there needs to be more trust between communities and law enforcement.
“I believe that the vast majority of our law enforcement personnel want to build that trust, want to cultivate it, and strengthen it. And, law enforcement is an invaluable part of our communities, but you cannot have trust without accountability. So, I am very supportive of police accountability and oversight.”
With a spike in violent crimes in California and the U.S., Bonta hopes to find the right solutions that will keep people safe.
“The safety of all Californians is a top priority for me and always will be. Every Californian deserves to be safe in their community, and we must take steps to make sure that is true. That includes using the approaches that work, whether it be community policing, providing more support to those with mental illness, or crime and violence prevention programs. We need to be smart and thoughtful in how we make our communities safe, recognize what we have done that is not working, and pull forward the things that have worked. We do have spikes in homicides and gun violence; we must address those. Our communities deserve action from me and all law enforcement personnel throughout California, so I am committed to saving communities and doing it in a smart, fair and, just way,” he added.
Bonta’s first elected position was to the Alameda Health Care District, overseeing local medical services. And, now as attorney general, he says he is pursuing a progressive health care agenda because he believes health care is a right, not a privilege.
“Every single Californian and every person in this country deserves high-quality, affordable health care. Health care is fundamental; it needs to be affordable and accessible. To the extent that I can make that a reality for as many Californians as possible through my role as attorney general, I will,” Bonta said.
Given the divide between red and blue counties in California, Bonta hopes to unite Californians.
“I learned that we have more in common than we do differences. When we work together and seek common ground, we can find it. Californians deserve that; rather than fighting, we collaborate. Rather than pointing the finger, we identify solutions. Some of my proudest moments have been when I work on big issues with Republicans and leaders from different parts of our state to address a common issue. Some of those issues include protecting our environment, protecting consumers, or making medicine more accessible to more Californians. Those have been my proudest moments, where we have looked for solutions and fought for the people of California together,” added Bonta.
Bonta says his predecessor, now U.S. Sec. of Health and Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, dealt with many disagreements with the Trump administration. But, Bonta says the Biden administration has shared values with California.
“Secretary Becerra, when he was A.G., was doing the right thing. He stood up for Californians, our values, and our natural resources when they were under assault from the Trump administration. With the Biden administration, there will be more opportunities to collaborate. We have a mass infusion of resources and funds from several stimulus packages from the federal government. And, we will continue to have support and partnership to address our common challenges; we hope to have support when it comes to addressing wildfires and climate change. Now we have the opportunity for the federal government and the state of California to work hand in hand to fight for the people of California, and I am excited about that prospect,” said Bonta.
After our interview with Attorney General Bonta, a federal appeals court ruled in his favor, blocking the lower court’s decision to overturn California’s assault weapons ban. That means the ban will remain in place during the appeals process, but the legal fight may ultimately end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
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