Breaking News
More () »

California's Attorney General race: Bonta vs Hochman

Here’s where Rob Bonta and Nathan Hochman stand on the big questions about California crime, justice and law.

CALIFORNIA, USA — There has been a lot of changes 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 selected for 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.

Who is Rob Bonta?

Rob Bonta likes to say that a passion for social justice is hardcoded into his DNA. It’s a family story he’s repeated throughout his political career: His dad, a white man from California, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. His mom protested the dictatorial Marcos regime in the Philippines before emigrating to the United States and fighting for civil rights and Filipino empowerment. For a spell, the entire family lived in a trailer in Keene organizing Central Valley farm workers alongside Cesar Chavez. 

Ambitious and brainy, Bonta went to Yale, Oxford and then back to Yale to get his law degree. But politics was never far from his legal career path. After a few years in private practice, he joined the San Francisco city attorney’s office, where he worked on the office’s complex litigation team. But on the side he found time to moonlight as a campaign manager for a local politico and building his brand within the Bay Area Democratic Party. Bonta’s star ascended quickly; he has never lost an election. But as an appointee to the top job at the Department of Justice, he hasn’t won this one either. He’d like to change that.

Who is Nathan Hochman?

If you’re looking for a candidate with a blue-chip lawyerly pedigree, you’ve found him. The son of Los Angeles’s “dean of tax litigators,” Hochman (pronounced “Hock-man”) went from Stanford to a federal judge clerkship to the U.S. Justice Department to the White House. Now, after two decades in private practice, where he represented elected officials, celebrities and tax-avoiding millionaires, the uber-ambitious legal eagle is seeking his biggest gig yet.

Hochman puts the public’s unease about violent crime and theft at the front and center of his campaign. But it’s his wide-ranging legal background that he says most distinguishes him from the other top candidates. Criminal prosecution, civil litigation, defense and political administration — he’s done it all. So despite never having held elected office, he says he’s ready to lead the state’s Department of Justice on day one. 

One complicating factor: He’s a Republican in a state that hasn’t elected a member of that party for a statewide post since 2006. Hochman stresses that crime and safety are nonpartisan concerns and that his ideas are “common sense.” As for that big question hanging over all Republican candidates in California — did he vote for President Trump? After the primary, he said that he didn’t vote for president in either 2016 or 2020.

Attorney General Quiz

Still undecided? Take this quiz from CalMatters to see which candidate you agree with most.

Here’s where Rob Bonta and Nathan Hochman stand on the big questions about California crime, justice and law.

What two initiatives would you pursue first to address the growing public concern about crime?

Hochman: 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.

Bonta: “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.

Do you support making significant changes to or outright repealing Proposition 47?

Hochman: 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.”

Bonta: 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.

What specific actions would you support to enforce affordable housing laws and goals, if any?

Hochman: “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.”

Bonta: 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.”

Do you support the new state law that requires the Attorney General to investigate when a police officer kills an unarmed civilian? Are there any changes you would seek in the law?

Hochman: 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: 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.”

This is an abridged version of the full story, which is available at CALmatters.org—a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

We want to hear from you

In October, ABC10 launched a voter engagement project to make sure you feel ready to vote. Have any other election-related questions you would like us to answer? Please let us know by filling out the survey below.

We encourage you to answer as many questions as you can, but we understand you may not feel comfortable answering them all.


Attorney General Rob Bonta set to lead California primary | 2022 Election

Before You Leave, Check This Out