Surprise Attorney General nominee raises concerns among business advocates

By Taryn Phaneuf | Dec 16, 2016

SACRAMENTO — After 24 years in Congress, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Gov. Jerry Brown’s pick for attorney general, has the experience to oppose the Trump administration. But small business advocates in California aren’t expecting an ally in the new top law enforcement officer.

Becerra, who represents downtown Los Angeles, will give up his House seat to fill the vacancy left by Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November. The position is up for election in 2018, leaving questions of whether Becerra will run or if he sees this as a short-term posting.

Harris’ Senate victory was foreseeable, Tom Scott, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in California, told the Northern California Record. But Becerra’s nomination? Not as obvious.

“I would bet 99 percent of the people thought they knew who was going to be appointed,” Scott said, adding that it seemed more likely Brown would select a career member of the attorney general's staff or someone who would act as a caretaker for two years rather than get in the middle of anyone's campaign. “I think there was certainly a surprise in the appointment,” he said.

Scott guesses that once Donald Trump won the presidency, any plan to simply fill the post went out the window. Instead, Brown appears to have selected a person who will serve as “chief Trump antagonist,” someone with a higher profile who knows the federal government and can be an activist in the office.

“It’s pretty clear that a lot of this [activity] is going to be serving as a firewall against the Trump administration relative to immigration, climate change and a variety of other issues,” Scott said.

Brian Kabateck, managing partner at Kabateck, Brown, Kellner and past president of Consumer Attorneys of California, told the Record he, too, was surprised by the choice at first.

“Of course it’s kind of brilliant because in some respects it’s showing Trump and D.C. that in California we respect Latinos and we’re looking for people who will protect our people from Washington,” Kabateck said. His firm is in Becerra’s district, and he’s known the congressman throughout his legislative career.

“He’s a great guy. I think he’s extremely concerned about his district and the people here even though he’s in Washington,” Kabateck said of Becerra. “He represents the antithesis of a Trump vision of America.”

Kabateck thinks the congressman’s federal background will be an asset because the attorney general in California handles implementation of federal regulations.

“It’s a difficult job for anybody to undertake. … He doesn’t have a traditional background in law enforcement but he’ll have a good staff,” Kabateck said.

Becerra, who did not return an interview request, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992. He serves as the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and was the first Latino on the Ways and Means Committee. On the Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, he tackles tax, Medicare, trade and income security policy.

The son of working-class parents who immigrated from Mexico, Becerra attended Stanford University and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1980. He returned to Stanford for law school, earning his law degree in 1984. He went on to work in a legal services office representing the mentally ill.

Before being elected to Congress, Becerra served one term in the California Legislature, representing the 59th Assembly District in Los Angeles County. He also worked as a deputy attorney general.

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