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California Attorney General Rob Bonta, center, speaks during a press conference following an anti-hate roundtable discussion at the Riverside City Hall in Riverside on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, center, speaks during a press conference following an anti-hate roundtable discussion at the Riverside City Hall in Riverside on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
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The attorney general is arguably the second most powerful elected position in California after the governor. AGs enforce the state’s voluminous legal code and wield fearsome prosecutorial powers. It’s a political position, of course, but the best attorneys general pursue justice first — and subordinate their partisan interests.

Unfortunately, California’s two previous “top cops” — current Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Vice President Kamala Harris — initiated highly partisan lawsuits and tilted the scales of justice on behalf of the state’s most-powerful liberal interests.

Related Endorsement: Eleni Kounalakis for Lieutenant Governor

After President Joe Biden tapped Becerra for that federal post, Gov. Gavin ɫ̳om appointed Bay Area Assembly member Rob Bonta as attorney general. Although Bonta’s been on the job a relatively short time, he has amassed a solid record as a fair-minded AG — a throwback to the days when the public interest trumped partisan point scoring.

We often disagreed with Bonta’s positions as a lawmaker, but like his even-handed approach as AG. This role suits him. He’s tough on crime, as evidenced by the Department of Justice’s aggressive approach toward smash-and-grab robberies. Yet he’s championed police-accountability measures and advanced sensible criminal-justice reforms.

Related endorsement: Jack Guerrero for California State Treasurer

In an editorial board interview, Bonta was transparent and knowledgeable, someone driven by crime data rather than partisan talking points. “We have to arrest people,” he said, “and make sure there is accountability and consequence.” But he wants to assure punishments are proportionate to the crimes. That strikes the right balance.

The attorney general is responsible for writing titles and summaries for statewide initiatives, but previous AGs abused that power to write those descriptors — typically the only thing voters read before voting — to help allies and hurt opponents.

Related endorsement: Lanhee Chen for state controller

We’ll keep close watch as his office issues more summaries, but so far he has stuck to his promise to describe ballot measures in a neutral manner. Even Bonta’s main failure speaks well of him. Instead of becoming defensive after his office released personal data of concealed-carry permit holders, Bonta has owned up to the mistake.

Bonta vows to follow the law, not his preferences. After the United States Supreme Court tossed out New York’s restrictions on concealed-carry permits, Bonta instructed sheriffs to revise their procedures. That earned him kudos from some gun-rights supporters.

Related endorsement: Lance Christensen for state superintendent

By contrast, Bonta’s opponent, Nathan Hochman, is something of a train wreck. To appeal to non-Republican voters, Hochman emphasizes his support for abortion rights, opposition to Donald Trump and commitment to enforce all of the state’s gun-control laws.

Propositions: Our endorsements for all state propositions on the 2022 ballot

On everything else, though, he is trying to appeal the harshest conservative forces, as he shamefully tries to link Bonta to controversial progressive district attorneys. Hochman even opposes the state’s new police-accountability laws, including Senate Bill 2, which creates a decertification process for clearly abusive police officers.

Whereas Bonta is forthright, Hochman struggled to answer questions without some legalistic dodge. He supports the current asset-forfeiture regimen, by which police agencies can seize private property without securing an underlying conviction. He vows to intervene in local district attorney decisions, which suggests a willingness to misuse an AG’s authority.

Hochman strikes us as an odd blend of Kamala Harris and old-school law-and-order GOP Attorney General Dan Lungren — a worst-of-both-worlds approach that would expand government power at every turn.

Bonta is a breath of fresh air in the AG’s office and deserves your support in November.

Sourcing & Methodology

To help you make decisions about the numerous candidates, measures, propositions and other races on your ballot, our editorial board (made up of opinion writers and editors), makes recommendations every election. The process is completely separate from newsroom reporting and journalists. With the exception of our executive editor, the members of our editorial board are not news reporters or editors. 

Sal Rodriguez, the opinion editor for the Southern California ɫ̳ Group’s 11 newspapers, heads the editorial board and guides our stances on public policy and political matters.  

Every week, our team analyzes legislation, monitors political developments, interviews elected officials or policy advocates and writes editorials on the issues of the day. Unsigned editorials reflect the consensus of our editorial board, with the aim of offering arguments that are empirically sound and intellectually consistent.

We apply this same process when considering to endorse candidates.

As a practical matter, we are selective in which races we endorse in. We endorse on all statewide ballot measures, competitive congressional races, select races for the state legislature and select countywide and city elections.

We identify credible candidates through surveys and interviews, deliberate based on our editorial precedent and in light of contemporary realities, and issue endorsements accordingly.

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