Media Attacks on Assemblymember Mia Bonta’s Committee Chair Appointment Is Not Responsible Journalism Paul Cobb | Special to California Black Media Partners
As the publisher of the Oakland Post, I am disappointed with recent mainstream media coverage and editorials trying to make tabloid news out of the appointment of Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) to be chair of the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee #5 on Public Safety.
Bonta a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, was recently appointed chair by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and some reporters and newspaper editors around California have baselessly made the case that the assignment is a conflict of interest because she is married to Attorney General Rob Bonta and her committee oversees funding for the state Department of Justice.
As journalists, we have a responsibility to report on conflicts of interest and hold public officials accountable for any improprieties. If, along the way, Bonta engages in activities that betray the voters' trust, reporters covering her office have every right to investigate and expose those actions. However, it is equally important to exercise caution and avoid making unfounded accusations that could damage the reputation of public officials.
Speaker Rendon has stated that the Legislature’s budget process is designed with checks and balances to ensure that the best possible budget is passed. According to him, no elected official can ever personally or financially benefit from the budget process. The legislature does not set salaries or benefits for state constitutional officers such as Rob Bonta. Bonta’s appointment to chair is recognition that she has the skills and experience necessary to fulfill her role effectively and impartially. Rendon has expressed confidence that she will be independent in her legislative judgment.
The work of Budget Subcommittee #5 consists of hearing, reviewing, and making recommendations to the full Budget Committee concerning the Governor’s budget proposals for the courts, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Department of Justice, the Military Department, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and other public safety departments.
Instead of fabricating baseless claims of conflicts of interest where there are none, responsible news reporters should be covering real news events occurring around the state. There are countless issues that require our investigation, from the ongoing homelessness crisis to the urgent need for criminal justice reform.
The press should be covering the important work that Bonta is doing to promote public safety and reduce recidivism in her district, where sadly gun violence currently disproportionately ravages communities of color. These are her constituents' legislative priorities, and Bonta has a strong track record of fighting for their needs.
There is real news occurring around the priorities Attorney General Bonta set for his office that merits press coverage. Among his priorities are combating hate crimes and protecting civil rights, advancing criminal justice reform, protecting consumers, defending California’s environment, and enhancing public safety. These are important issues that deserve our attention, and it is disappointing to see them being overshadowed by baseless allegations of conflict of interest.
Mia Bonta has made it clear that the suggestion of a conflict of interest shows a lack of understanding about the legislative budgeting process.
The Assembly budget process starts with the Governor’s proposed budget bill, introduced by the full Budget Committee chair as required by the Constitution. There are five Assembly budget subcommittees that recommend amendments to the budget bill as the principal focus of their agendas.
The Governor’s chief fiscal advisor, the Department of Finance leads budget matters for the executive branch. Finance and departmental officials, as well as staff of the Legislative Analyst’s Office advocates and members of the public, appear at public hearings to answer questions.
Budget subcommittees focus on specific issues in their agendas, such as how much more or less funding a division of a department needs to perform a specific function.
The state’s budget is finalized by negotiations on thousands of budget items led by the Governor, the Senate Pro Tem, and the Assembly Speaker (a.k.a. the “Big Three”), on behalf of their branches of government. The staff of the Governor, the Senate, and the Assembly carry out these negotiations at the three leaders’ direction.
The Department of Justice - as a separate constitutional office - is not directly involved in those concluding negotiations. The executive branch in those talks is represented by the Governor.
Mia Bonta is an outstanding Assemblymember and public servant who has proven that she is committed to representing her constituents with integrity.
Proving her integrity, Bonta has announced, “I will recuse myself from Budget Subcommittee 5 matters directly pertaining to the Department of Justice including budget change proposals, proposed trailer bills, and legislative proposals that pertain to the DOJ to ensure that the body may focus on the important work before us.”
Rob Bonta, who held the same Assembly seat before being appointed Attorney General by Gov. Newsom and winning election to the office last November, also serves his office with integrity.
The media focus should be on covering both of their efforts to promote public safety and make California a better place for all citizens.
I urge all reporters and editors to uphold the principles of responsible journalism and prioritize the truth and accuracy of their reporting over sensationalism and clickbait. The public deserves better than to be misled by unfounded innuendo. The Black press has a responsibility to step up and do its part to foster a more informed and engaged public and not allow mainstream media and newspapers to marginalize Black leaders without pushing back especially when their reporting shows ignorance and fails to uphold the principles of responsible journalism.
[Paul Cobb is the Publisher of the Oakland Post Newspaper in Alameda County, which is part of the Post News Group. He is known as a West Oakland community organizer who once led the Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal and served as a mayoral appointee on the Oakland Board of Education.]