California AG’s wife leads in race for his old Assembly seat

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The wife of California Attorney General Rob Bonta was leading in early returns Tuesday night as she sought his old San Francisco Bay Area legislative seat in a special election against a fellow Democrat.

After polls closed, Mia Bonta had just over 55% of the vote, compared to about 45% for her opponent, Janani Ramachandran, with about 46,000 votes counted.

Mia Bonta is backed by a powerful coalition of political, business and union leaders that Ramachandran says makes her beholden to special interests.

Bonta had 38% of the vote in the June primary, well short of the majority she needed to win outright and avoid a runoff with Ramachandran, who finished second with 25%. Under California’s election system the top two vote-getters move on the general election regardless of their party affiliation.

Two-thirds of voters in the 18th Assembly District are registered Democrats. Rob Bonta won with 87% support in each of his last four elections. He left the Legislature in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him to fill the state’s top law enforcement post.

Mia Bonta is president of the Alameda School Board and chief executive of Oakland Promise, a college and career preparation program in the city’s public schools. She raised nearly three times as much as her opponent and benefited from four independent expenditure committees that spent nearly $1 million on her behalf.

Bonta has endorsements from the state Democratic Party, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland and the state treasurer, schools superintendent and secretary of state. Bonta, 49, is also backed by the Legislature’s Latino and Black caucuses.

“I’ve dedicated my life to fighting for progressive change,” Bonta said in a campaign ad. “From anti-poverty activist to education nonprofit leader, I’ll keep leading on investing in public schools, bold climate action, and criminal justice reform.”

Ramachandran, 29, is a social justice attorney, previously served on the Oakland Public Ethics Commission and currently serves on the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. She is backed by the Legislature’s Asian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQ caucuses and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna.

Ramachandran says Bonta isn’t progressive enough for the 18th District that includes a large swath of Oakland.

“My opponent may have the corporations on her side – but what we have is much more powerful: the power of the people,” Ramachandran said in backing “a true living wage, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, rooting racism out of our criminal-legal systems, and ending inhumane evictions.”

The results of Tuesday’s special election will be certified by Sept. 10.