Editorial: Why Xavier Becerra is a really doubtful option to run HHS

President-elect Joe Biden’s desire for a diverse leadership team is welcome and wise. The centuries when the federal government was led almost entirely by white men faded under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to reappear under President Donald Trump.

It’s encouraging to see Biden select the first Secretary of the Treasury (Janet Yellen) and the first black Secretary of Defense (Lloyd Austin). Yellen, a past chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and Austin, a retired four-star general, are eminently qualified.

However, it’s hard to understand why Biden named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Secretary for Health and Human Services. At a time when the nation is facing its worst health crisis in more than a century, it’s confusing that Biden would choose an HHS chief with no public health experience. There are many Latinos who would have been far better choices, starting with Dr. Antonia Novello, the former US surgeon general, and Cecilia Muñoz, a domestic policy advisor to Obama.

However, concerns about Becerra should go well beyond the fact that he does not have the background to lead the push against a pandemic that could kill half a million Americans or more. As the California Attorney General, he was a sharp disappointment.

Becerra has continued the ugly tradition of attorneys-general drafting grossly misleading electoral language on proposals presented to voters. In 2018, he outlined a move to end a $ 5 billion annual increase in taxes and fees for motorists that was approved by lawmakers and the then government. Jerry Brown eliminates “certain road repair and transportation means”. That contributed to it being rejected. That year, he described a move that would have caused the largest increase in property tax in the state’s history as a proposal to increase funding for public schools, community colleges, and community services by changing the taxation of industrial and commercial property. It failed when opponents provided the context that Becerra would not. Yes, of course politics is hardball. However, such dishonesty should not be taken for granted.

But his lack of principles goes far beyond that. Becerra attempted to sabotage one of the most important police reforms in recent years: the legislature’s 2018 vote for a law requiring law enforcement agencies to make public the disciplinary records of officers facing ongoing allegations of wrongdoing. Becerra not only joined the police unions’ absurd claim that the law only applies to new allegations of wrongdoing, but threatened to prosecute members of the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program and its Investigative Studios for providing details of past and current law enforcement officers had committed crimes using information from the California Commission on Standards and Training for Peace Workers following a legal, straightforward request for public records.

Becerra is likely to be questioned heavily by Senate Republicans only because he is a California Democrat. Senators from both parties who know his baggage have far better reasons to question his selection. His nomination should be viewed for what it is: a clear mistake on Joe Biden’s part.