California Gov. Jerry Brown has named Rep. Xavier Becerra, the head of the House Democratic caucus and a former state deputy attorney general, to serve as the state’s next attorney general.
The office will be vacated in January when Kamala Harris is sworn in as a U.S. senator.
Becerra called it “an opportunity I cannot refuse,” in his reply to Brown’s surprise announcement on Twitter Thursday morning.
The move ends weeks of speculation about a possible appointment to fill the seat, which included a long list of dozens of potential appointees, including his wife, First Lady Anne Gust Brown.
Few had seen Becerra, who was first elected to the House in 1992, as a likely candidate.
Brown, in his statement released Thursday, said “Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general. I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”
Becerra, 58, a son of Mexican immigrants from Los Angeles, was a high-profile surrogate for Hillary Clinton in the past election, and was considered to be on the short list for an appointment in her administration had she won last month.
Becerra is the first Latino member of the Committee on Ways And Means, and the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. Becerra has also been an outspoken member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he chaired from 1997 to 1998.
Becerra said in a statement that it had been “an extraordinary privilege to serve my fellow Californians in Congress for the past 24 years, fighting for working families like my parents, and I look forward to continuing that battle as California’s attorney general.”
Becerra has a long history of legislative activity in California, as a member of the state Assembly in Los Angeles County, and as deputy attorney general for the 59th Assembly District in Los Angeles County from 1990 to 1992. He was a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice, and worked in the Office of the Attorney General from 1987 to 1990.
The appointment could set up an intra-party fight for the attorney general post in 2018. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, has already declared his intention to run.
Becerra’s appointment is also sure to cause a scramble for his heavily Democratic congressional seat in Los Angeles.
Moments after Brown announced on Becerra appointment, former state Assembly Speaker John A. Perez announced his intention to run for Becerra’s district, positioning himself in opposition to President-elect Donald Trump.
“In the aftermath of November’s election nationwide, two facts are clearer than ever,” Perez said in a statement. “The first is that we need to fight harder than ever to protect the progress we’ve made. The second is that California is the one place in the country where Democrats know how to win, and the one place in the country where government is working.”
The governor will be required to set a special election date within two weeks of Becerra vacating his congressional seat, according to state law. The special election procedures call for the same all-party primary system that California usually uses, but if a candidate gets a majority of the vote in the primary, they will win the seat without going through a general election. If no candidate gets to 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a special general election.
The primary will be approximately 18 to 20 weeks after Brown calls the special election, according to the regulations.