- Managerial know-how needed to oversee the more than 4,500 employees at the California Department of Justice
- Deep knowledge of criminal justice policy, police oversight, consumer protection, civil rights enforcement and environmental regulation
- Experience writing clearly and accurately (though not necessarily even-handedly), as you and your staff will be required to pen the title and summary of every statewide ballot measure
- Conservative-leaning applicants are encouraged to demonstrate a warm working relationship with law enforcement unions. Progressive-leaning applicants should show affinity with criminal justice reform advocates
About the hiring process:
There has been a lot of recent turnover at the California Department of Justice. In 2016, Attorney General Kamala Harris became a U.S. senator and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra was appointed to the job. Four years later, Becerra was promoted to a cabinet job in the Biden administration, allowing Gov. Gavin Newsom to tap then-Democratic Assemblymember Rob Bonta.
Now Bonta has to convince a majority of California voters he deserves to keep the job. As incumbent and a Democrat, he’s in a good position to do so. But the recent surge in public concern over crime — which is out of step with some of the numbers — has buoyed the prospect of his competitor: Nathan Hochman, a Los Angeles Republican who served the Department of Justice under then-President George W. Bush.
Hochman narrowly grabbed second place in the June primary, winning 18% of the vote. That’s far below Bonta’s electoral haul. Whatever headwinds some progressive prosecutors have faced at the ballot box this year, the current attorney general got 54% of the vote.
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Here’s where Rob Bonta and Nathan Hochman, applicants for attorney general, stand on the big questions about California crime, justice and law.
Californians are increasingly concerned about crime, though the numbers paint a more complicated picture. Republicans blame voter-approved Proposition 47, which eight years ago lowered some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. While Democrats are talking tough, they’re not proposing a return to longer prison sentences. After several high-profile cases of police killings of Black men and the George Floyd case, the California attorney general’s office now investigates all killings of unarmed civilians by law enforcement officers.
He said he would “create a spiral of lawfulness” so that “crimes actually do have measured consequences.” He also said he would make addressing fentanyl overdoses a top priority by holding regular press conferences, aggressively prosecuting dealers and launching “a very robust educational effort” aimed at kids.
“Public safety is job number one, two and three.” He emphasized programs to reduce gun violence by prosecuting street gangs, investing in violence intervention programs and enforcing the state’s strict gun laws. He also pledged to continue focusing on violent crime and putting more resources toward prosecution and victim services.
Yes, though did not specify what specific changes he would like to see. Though he was particularly critical of the provision in the law that reclassified theft of property under $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor, he stressed that “as long as Prop 47's on the books, I'm enforcing Prop 47.”
He said he is “open to any discussion on how we might be able to strengthen our state’s criminal justice system,” but stressed that current law has already allowed the state Department of Justice to break up multiple major retail theft rings.
He supports the law in principle, but he would prefer that the state collaborate with local law enforcement. “To the extent that the AG's office works with the locals, I think that is your most effective way to get out the correct answer.”
Bonta authored the law as a legislator. “We are showing up, doing the work that needs to get done, and adding a critical layer of accountability.”
California voters have repeatedly supported keeping capital punishment, but Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium in 2019. Now, legislators and advocates are trying to pare back the death penalty with more piecemeal proposals.
“What I believe…is not important in the sense of carrying out the duties of the job of the California Attorney General's Office…I'm signing up for a job that's enforcing the law, not making the law.”
No. “It is both irreversible and it is fallible. There is no way to undo it when mistakes are made.” While he said he supports the governor’s moratorium, he said he would enforce existing law.
California has some of the country’s strictest gun laws. But Gov. Newsom and others want to pass more, namely to allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers over illegal assault weapons and “ghost guns” — a proposal patterned after the Texas abortion law. A law already on the books — banning felons and domestic abusers from having weapons — is under scrutiny for its deadly failures.
Unclear. “At the end of the day, that's for the California Legislature to decide.”
Yes. He called it a “creative” way to address the scourge of gun violence. He notes that the prohibitions on “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” are permitted by the U.S. Constitution, while an effective ban on abortion is not.
“The budget for going after these type of guns from prohibited persons has only gone up over the years. I'd spend the money. I'd spend the money wisely.”
Bonta said his office has urged the Legislature to provide more funding to local police and court systems to remove weapons from prohibited persons. “You do that right, and you get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them immediately.” He also said the Department of Justice needs more funding to reduce turnover and to modernize the state’s firearms databases.
The state is building a new agency to regulate Google, Facebook and other internet giants. A bill before the Legislature would hold social media companies liable for promoting apps and features that addict and damage kids’ mental health.
“I would look for every opportunity to work with the tech companies to come up with a regulatory structure that works for them and — as, or more, importantly — works for the consumers of California.” He also said that he would push for more “technological tools that parents have to monitor their children's internet usage at the highest level.”
“I’m committed to holding social media companies accountable, particularly when their actions may cause harm to California’s youngest residents.” He pointed to ongoing investigations his office launched against TikTok and Meta, the parent company of Instagram.
California’s Democratic leaders are positioning the state as a sanctuary for people seeking abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade later this year. Hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped during the pandemic, with reported incidents doubling in 2020. Several California cities are rebelling against laws meant to boost affordable housing. And Native American tribes and national betting giants are gearing up for a high-stakes ballot measure fight over online sports gambling.
He declined to take a position. “The California Attorney General will enforce the laws on the books that the state Legislature passes and the governor signs.”
Yes. He said he supports efforts to ensure that California becomes “a safe harbor for millions of Americans seeking access to basic reproductive healthcare…I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to defend our freedom as I fight these abortion bans and stand up for reproductive freedom.”
He said the issue needs to be studied first to ensure that hate crimes are actually being reported in the first place and, if not, why not.
He said that he was open to the idea. For now, he said prosecution of existing hate crime laws should be beefed up with the creation of “specialized hate crime units” with local D.A. offices.
“I wouldn't back off any particular city in this state, if in fact they've completely forsaken their duty to comply with the state law. But on the other hand, I will absolutely take into account whatever good faith efforts they're going to put on the table and certainly work with them to get to a point where they're in compliance with the law.”
Last November, the Department of Justice created a housing strike force to monitor compliance with state housing and zoning laws. “My message to local governments is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law, and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don't, my office won't stand idly by.”