Becerra Confirmed as California Attorney General

The California state Senate voted to confirm Rep. Xavier Becerra as the state’s next attorney general on a party line vote of 26-9.  Becerra will be sworn into office tomorrow after his resignation from Congress, some time before Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address.

In a statement, Becerra said, “I’m deeply grateful to the State Senate for voting, like the State Assembly, to confirm me as California’s Attorney General.

It is humbling and exciting to assume responsibility for vigorously advancing the forward-leaning values that make California unique among the many states.”

Politically, the California attorney general job is a much bigger platform for the national stage for Becerra than if he had remained in the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives. As the state’s top law enforcement officer, he will most certainly be involved in litigation with the Trump administration on issues ranging from immigration, the environment, and civil rights. If he wants to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020 or wants to be a strong contender in a future Democratic administration, being in the legal trenches fighting against the Trump administration would probably make for a very good credential, particularly if he can get legal victories in federal court or the Supreme Court.

California Is the New Texas

There are two stories worth reading about the role California might play in the years ahead as an opposition foil to Donald Trump. Democrats control the state – the governor’s mansion, combined with supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Essentially, California will – possibly in tandem with other states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois – assume the role that states like Texas played during the Obama presidency.

First, this story from NPR:

There are several ways the state may challenge Trump and congressional Republicans. It may simply choose not to not enforce some federal laws it disagrees with and enact stronger state laws around environmental and consumer regulations. The state is also likely to aggressively file lawsuits against the federal government.

To that end, Brown’s pick to be California’s next attorney general, Congressman Xavier Becerra will play a high-profile role. Becerra said the state isn’t looking to pick fights but won’t be afraid to go to court either.

“My obligation is to protect my state, to promote the interests of my state,” said Becerra.

It may sound unusual for a liberal state like California to resort to an appeal to states’ rights. For the past eight years, conservative states have argued for their autonomy with respect to the federal government.

But states are opportunistic about their use of states’ rights arguments and tend to employ them when their party doesn’t control Washington, says Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. Still, Larson says California may want to be careful about how much it uses that argument.

“If we were to push back very, very heavily against federal law, there’s a real danger,” that environmental and civil rights laws that depend on a broad reading of federal law could be endangered, said Larson.

Democrats have already introduced one bill to better train defense attorneys on immigration law and another to fund legal representation for people facing deportation. Both are “urgency measures” meaning they would take effect immediately if they muster a two-thirds vote. The programs are expected to cost millions of dollars.

Second, this Los Angeles Times story about a bill proposed by California legislators – hard to see this as anything other than a direct slap at Donald Trump after his refusal to release his tax returns – requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns as a prerequisite to appear on California’s presidential ballot in 2020, based on a similar proposal circulating in the New York state legislature.

The precedent of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the public goes back to George Romney, who released a decade’s worth of returns in his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination during the 1968 presidential campaign. This practice – not a legal requirement – was observed by candidates from both parties in every election since 1976. Mitt Romney only released two years’ worth of tax returns in the 2012 election, which he was harshly criticized for by Democrats and transparency advocates. Donald Trump didn’t release any of his tax returns, though pages from a 1995 state tax return were eventually leaked to the New York Times by an anonymous source.

These bills would make disclosure of tax returns a binding legal requirement for presidential candidates. Because election laws and ballot access issues are largely left up to the individual states, California and New York may be able to do this legally. The only potential downside is the fact that Donald Trump won the election without California or New York in his column, so hypothetically he might decide to disregard the law and try organizing a write-in campaign for his supporters in those states.

Democratic Megadonors Considering 2018 Gubernatorial Runs

Good scoop from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti:

Four weeks out from Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Democrats may soon be launching a few unorthodox, mega-rich candidates of their own.

In three major states with a governor’s mansion up for grabs in 2018, a big-name, politically active billionaire or multimillionaire is taking steps toward a run — donors looking to take matters into their own hands after 2016’s gutting losses.

In Florida, it’s John Morgan, a wealthy attorney who has long been one of the Democratic Party’s biggest swing-state fundraisers. In Illinois, it’s J.B. Pritzker, the businessman and philanthropist with a history of pumping cash and Chicago political support toward Hillary Clinton. And in California, it’s Tom Steyer, the hedge fund manager-turned climate activist who used the 2014 and 2016 election cycles to become one of the left’s single biggest donors, to the tune of over $140 million. And more may be on the way.

It’s an unexpected development that stands to inject new life into the Democratic Party — but it also exposes the lack of clear pipeline for young, rising Democrats after a series of losses, at a time when they are down to just 18 governors across the country, from 29 just eight years ago.

“There seems to be a feeling that we need to look beyond the normal folks we always look to, the normal types,” said Elisabeth Pearson, the Democratic Governors Association’s executive director, who said the party was discussing a “need to look beyond the type of people who have been elected before, and look at who else might be out there.”

California is a Democratic stronghold. Incumbent governor Jerry Brown will be retiring at the end of his current term, which means the Democratic primary is where the competition will really be in this race. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are running for the job as well, so how Steyer might fit into this race is not known at the present time.

Illinois and Florida are both under Republican control, but will be in different circumstances in 2018.  Illinois incumbent Bruce Rauner will be running for re-election, while Florida incumbent Rick Scott is term-limited and Republicans will be defending an open seat.

UPDATE: Here is a post-election tweet from John Morgan linking to a Medium post outlining his vision for what the next governor of Florida should do.

 

Becerra Chosen to be Next Attorney General of California

The Los Angeles Times just sent out a news alert announcing Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) to be the next attorney general of California, taking over for outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate.

More details:

Becerra, 58, has served 12 terms in Congress and was making a bid to become the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when Brown called him unexpectedly to offer the job.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” Becerra said. “It means I get to be home a lot more.”

Becerra, who is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, would be the state’s first Latino attorney general.

He worked in the Civil Division of the attorney general’s office from 1987 to 1990 before entering Congress. Becerra earned a law degree from Stanford Law School and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University.

He said in an interview Thursday morning he had always wanted to return to the office.

Becerra, if confirmed, would be the first attorney general appointed by a governor since Thomas Lynch, who was tapped by former Gov. Pat Brown in 1964.

The choice will no doubt send political shock waves through California because Becerra was not on any of the widely circulated lists of picks. Before Nov. 8, the conventional wisdom had been that the governor would choose a caretaker, perhaps even a career staffer who would simply carry out the office’s functions through the 2018 elections.

Becerra must be confirmed by the state Senate and Assembly, both handily controlled by Democrats.

The office of attorney general is perhaps second only to the governor in power, with broad authority to file sweeping legal action and defend California law.

UPDATE: Here’s the statement from Becerra:

 

California Democrats Have Supermajorities in Both Houses of State Legislature

Nearly three weeks after Election Day, the Associated Press finally called the race for California’s 29th Senate District in favor of Democrat Josh Newman, giving state Democrats a 2/3 supermajority in both houses of the state legislature in Sacramento.

Why does this matter? According to the Los Angeles Times:

With a supermajority, a political party can raise taxes, place measures on the statewide ballot, enact laws immediately with an “urgency” clause and override a governor’s veto. In theory, it’s an enormous amount of power.

In short, one of the bluest and the most populated states in the country got even bluer for the final two years of Governor Jerry Brown’s term.