Fil-Am Bonta’s Rise, Boudin Recall Highlight California’s Primary

by Emil Guillermo

For American Filipinos, the rising star in politics isn’t Bong-Bong Marcos. It’s California’s Rob Bonta. After the California primary this week, there’s no question.

Bonta, attorney general appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March of 2021, easily won his California primary race with 54.8% of the vote and will face Republican Nathan Hochman, who finished second with 18.3%.After little over a year as the state’s top cop, Filipino American Bonta got just what he needed—a vote of confidence statewide. Now he appears headed for a win in November’s general election as hot button issues like assault weapons/gun control, and abortion, are all in his social justice wheelhouse. More importantly, his political career arc seems to rise too, as everyone who has held the job prior (notably Kamala Harris) has been destined for a major DC role.

The only question in the primary was would the whole state accept Bonta after such a short time on the job.

The answer we know now is yes. His star is rising.And that was what I’d call the big story about the California primary.

In my mind, it overshadows the general malaise over democracy.

Here I am, paying over $6 for gas, concerned over record inflation, general economic inequity, plus the lack of attention to public health amidst a pandemic, climate change, and prospects of greater global conflicts, not to mention racism.

Oh, and gun violence too.

How about you?

Think you should vote if you get a chance?That’s why it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that in a time when American democracy is being held up with unwaxed dental floss used as baling wire, California, the state with the most Asian Americans, didn’t seem excited enough to show up to vote.

Democracy could have used some moral support.It is so easy to vote in California these days, I got my permanent vote by mail ballot and sent it off before I left for a jaunt eastward.

But as I stayed up to see the other results come in from the Golden State, I was appalled at the turnout. Just 14% before election day itself when people could show up in person or drop off ballots. And now it appears it will be well under 30% when all is said and done. Compare that to the Gubernatorial recall of last year, with a turnout nearing 40%.

I think recalls are a misuse of democracy and a disruptive nuisance. I’d rather see politicians and voters work out their differences within their term and then get voted out, rather than seek an instant nuclear divorce.

But this is the kind of contentiousness that seems to bring out the voters.

Recalls are like the physical act of throwing someone out on the street now. Forget about throwing tea into Boston harbor. You can simply throw out an elected official!Of course, in the process of voting for a candidate, you can have the same effect.  For example, if you were upset by some negative stories involving high profile AAPI pols like Treasurer Fiona Ma or State Assemblyman Phil Ting, you could have voted against them or opposed them in the primary.But both Ma and Ting showed how they could run on their past record and name recognition and survive any hint of scandal. Call it political maturity. Ma’s 58% in the state treasurer’s race is particularly impressive. She had the party and the people behind her in a statewide race.

Chesa Boudin Recall And The Problem With San Francisco
So a recall has become the way to put a politician on trial. Let the voters be judge, jury and executioner. It also draws people to the polls and this time around San Franciscans got the benefit of the modern voter magnet.

Boudin was billed as a progressive district attorney, the kind who seemed suited to a liberal city like San Francisco. The problem was idealistic views on incarceration, drug rehabilitation and sentencing sound better than the reality.

Voters saw the city in disarray with a drug and homelessness problem, smash and grab shoplifting crime, and suddenly all the high-minded ideas no longer had their appeal.

Boudin became a scapegoat for all the ills of the city that were in full view.

San Francisco wanted a strong man as DA. Not quite Rodrigo Duterte. But a strongman, nonetheless.San Francisco conservatives (aka “moderate Democrats”), led by primarily Asian voters in the city’s Sunset and Richmond districts, ousted Boudin with 60% voting for recall and 40% to retain.

This now makes the second recall in the last few months (the other being the recall of several SF Board of Education members), and you’ll see this talked about nationally as the story of the California primary (though they will ignore the Bonta story).

Boudin’s story is yet another tale of voter discontent with progressive policies in of all places San Francisco. And that will be the Fox News spin.

What’s really happening is that San Francisco doesn’t have effective leadership, period. Mayor London Breed will appoint a new District Attorney, and nothing that got people mad at Boudin will change at all. Because it never was about Boudin and his progressive views on sentencing and rehab.

Homelessness, fentanyl abuse, smash and grab crime weren’t all Boudin’s responsibilities. But he became “it.”

Boudin’s problem is he was a leader with no followers.

So now he gets booted. And just watch how it will barely make a difference.

San Francisco’s problems will remain because the leaders who could make a difference aren’t doing their jobs.

Maybe voters recalled the wrong poll.To get the right ones you must be paying attention and voting in our democracy.

Unfortunately, less than a third of us find it worth the bother.

Less than 30%? That’s the real danger in our present-day when elections are decided by a tyrannical minority.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the Inquirer’s North American Bureau. He talks about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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