Assembly Candidate Mixes Smarts with Diversity but will he be swallowed by the political machine?
I like Rob Bonta. Indeed, I think it would be hard not to like him. He’s affable, he is smart yet low key, he seems committed to his family and California. I can see him going far, though that may be wishful thinking. And he is still untested – I’m not one of those who believe that city politics really prepare you for state or national politics -, right now he seems to be listening more than he’s talking, but that can be a good thing.
I will confess that one of the things I like most about Rob is his family. It really represents the face of America. Rob himself is of mixed Filipino and white heritage and he’s married to a Puerto Rican woman of mixed African, indigenous and Spanish blood. They have three children who attend public schools in Alameda. Though they are both Yale-educated lawyers, they have not pursued highly paid careers. Rob is a Deputy City Attorney in San Francisco, while his wife Mialisa is a consultant with a non-profit education organization. That means that they and their children face the same financial problems than most of us Californians do. Issues of public school funding, paying for college, health care and so forth touch them personally. I think that’s an important consideration in choosing representatives.
But having a nice family is just icing on the cake; what I most like about Rob is his brain. Last year, Mike and I met with Rob for a couple of hours to ask him about his race and pose all sorts of questions. I was blown away both by his analytical skills and his honesty. Seldom he gave me the answer I was looking for, even when I telegraphed quite clearly what I wanted to hear. Instead he answered my questions carefully by identifying all the issues at play (even those that were not so obvious), and considering the implications of each course of action. Some of the issues we brought up were new to him so he wasn’t prepared to give us a concrete answer but hearing his thought process makes me confident that he will not rush into any policy decision and that he will be able to foresee the not-so-evident consequences of any position he takes.
Almost as importantly, I am confident that any legislation that Rob drafts (and hopefully votes for) will be well written. One of the great problems with our justice system is that so many of our laws are very poor: unclear, contradictory, too complex to handle. I think the state could save millions of dollars by just passing well drafted laws that do not need to be constantly litigated.
Politically, I see Rob as a middle-of-the-road Bay Area progressive. I think he will pursue progressive causes – in particular vis a vis education and social justice -, but my feeling is that he will be pragmatic and perhaps more willing to compromise than Guillen. I also don’t see him as being much of a “leader” – I think we can rely on him for sound legislation but I would not expect many a fiery speech.
One thing that concerns me about Bonta is his political future. I think he has the “goods” to make it far in the political world. I see him moving into the governor’s mansion (or is it an apartment now?) or even the White House one day. He has the ambition to do it. But there are both pluses and minuses about having long term political expectations. On the one hand, the promise of a political future may work to keep Bonta more accountable to his constituency and more “clean”. On the other, campaigns are expensive and money is not free. Any candidate who is thinking long term, needs to think about who will fund his future political campaigns – and when it comes time to vote, it’s hard to do the right thing when it means having an empty campaign bank account next time around. To his credit, Bonta is very cognizant of this fact. When I discussed the issue with him, he didn’t insult my intelligence by feeding me the “they’ll support me because they support my positions” line which so many candidates use. Instead, he seemed very aware and troubled by what these future fundraising needs would mean for him. I appreciate that immensely, I think that the most important skill a politician can have is self-awareness.
I have co-endorsed Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen, I think both of them bring different things to the table and I wish we could send them both to Sacramento. Rob is the favorite right now, but we still have a few weeks before June.