By Joe Livernois
Sen. Anna Caballero has made it clear to Gov. Gavin Newsom she is interested in the Attorney General’s job that might open soon if the current occupant is confirmed for a cabinet post in the Biden Administration.
AG Xavier Becerra is President Biden’s pick to be his Health and Human Services secretary. The Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled next week, and Newsom has indicated he will wait until Becerra has been confirmed before picking his successor.
Earlier this week, a curious coalition of Monterey County elected officials held a press conference to voice support for Caballero’s quest for the AG position.
The gathering was called by Assemblyman Robert Rivas, and included Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig, Monterey County supervisors John Phillips and Chris Lopez, and Cesar Lara of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council.
A source with a long history in Sacramento told Voices that the names of several other high-profile political figures are being circulated around the insider media as front-runners. Those names include Rep. Adam Schiff, who rose to prominence with his handling of the first impeachment trial for then-President Donald Trump last year. Schiff has apparently been endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Politico.
Other potential candidates include Assemblyman Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American state legislator and the child of farmworker organizers in the Central Valley, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the former leader of the state Senate.
Last week Caballero was named by LAist as a legitimate candidate for the job, saying she has the credentials. What’s more, according to LAist, “California has never had a Latina attorney general, and Newsom likes making history.”
On the other hand, LAist pointed out that Caballero won an expensive and hard-fought campaign to win her Senate seat in 2018. “By plucking her out of the state Senate, Newsom would force a special election that Republicans could have a shot of winning,” according to its handicapper. While a Salinas resident, most of the 12th Senate District she represents is located in the Central Valley, from Ceres to Mendota, and until her election was a Republican stronghold.
Over her career, the Texas native has been an attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance, the position that brought her to Salinas. She has been a criminal defense attorney, the mayor of Salinas, and the director of the Consumer Services Agency, an appointee of then-Gov. Jerry Brown.
Among the local leaders who might have seemed conspicuous in his absence during the Caballero-endorsing press conference was Supervisor Luis Alejo.
Alejo has been leading high-profile efforts to promote Latinx politicians at every opportunity. Back in November, he told a group at a rally in Fresno that Latinos “are tired of being told to wait our turn. Latinos are ready to serve at all levels of government, including our state’s highest offices.”
Alejo told Voices that he pressed Newsom to appoint a Latino to replace Vice President Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate and he supported Shirley Weber to be the first African American woman for Secretary of State.
He also endorsed Bonta several weeks ago. “He grew up in Delano’s 40 Acres with labor leader Cesar Chavez as a child,” Alejo said in an email message Friday morning. “I believe Governor Newsom wants to have the rich diversity of California reflected in these three rare appointments and Bonta has stellar legal and educational qualifications.”
Alejo said he believes Bonta is the front runner. “Senator Caballero is certainly qualified too, but I was never asked to support her,” he said. “Nonetheless, I wish her luck in her efforts too.”
Caballero defeated Karina Alejo, who was then married to Luis Alejo, in a race for the state Assembly in 2016.