CHICAGO (jGLi) -- “I will never turn my back on the Filipinos.”
With this pledge, incumbent Alameda City Vice Mayor Rob Bonta had gone on record that his election as the first historic statewide Filipino American candidate to ever win a legislator’s seat in California “will not change who I am.”
In voice-recorded phone interview Tuesday (Nov. 27) with jGLi, Attorney Bonta, who will be sworn into office on Monday, Dec. 3, said, “One thing I never want to do is to disappoint my fellow Filipino community members because this is our victory together. I will never turn my back on anybody. And I am the same person that I was before the elections. And the elections did not change me who I am.
“There is no ego. It is just an opportunity to serve the people and make the people’s lives even better.”
The Filipino community is less than 5 percent in his 18th District that covers the cities of Alameda, Oakland and San Leandro that has a half-million population with a majority of whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos. But Bonta gives big credit for his win to the “strength and power of the Filipino community (in the district), including San Francisco Bay Area and even outside California who gave us a lot of support from the people, who were very excited that once and for all, one of them is shattering the glass ceiling as the first Filipino American legislator in a state where Filipino Americans are the second largest ethnic community in California.
“They seized that moment that was tried in the past by other Filipino American candidates because of what they had done in the past.”
The 41-year-old lawyer said his city of Alameda is the smallest among the three cities in the district with 75,000 but he was surprised that he did very well in Oakland, best in Alameda and San Leandro and top vote getter in both primary and general elections against a formidable opponent Abel Guillen, a Latino, and trustee of Peralta Community College board.
FORERUNNERS IN THE CA ASSEMBLY
Bonta must be referring to the first Filipino American to be elected in U.S. Mainland Vallejo City (California) Council member Larry L. Asera, who ran for CA assembly seat “30 years ago;” Christopher L. Cabaldon, five-time incumbent mayor of West Sacramento, who was a candidate for the 8th district seat in CA assembly in 2008 but lost in the primary by “three percentage points;” and former Milpitas City Mayor Henry Chang Manayan, who also ran for a CA seat covering Milpitas “in 1990’s;” and two others, namely, namely optometrist Jennifer Ong, who lost in close contest for the 20th District to Bill Quirk, and Lathrop, California Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo lost big to Kristin Olsen, in the 12th District, during the Nov. 6 elections.
Attorney Bonta, a graduate of Yale University and had attended Oxford and Cambridge Universities, said, “I always believe I could win. And I never thought I would just lose the race. I never knew obviously for sure if I will win. (It) was just I was constantly optimistic. I faced an uphill battle. … And (when I won the) primary impressively and continued the role of front runner, I never took the general election for granted and I always ran as if I was losing and work the hardest.”
He said, the small amount of contributors made an impact to his campaign. It was a show of support, (when) collective is a very large power. It’s like one vote. When no one will vote, (it will make a big difference). The most critical thing that Fil Am can do is to increase Filipino power, be active in politics, and care for the candidates.”
URGE FIL AMS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Bonta encouraged the Filipino community to “give money, vote, volunteer 30 minutes and hour in the campaign. Give $5 or $10, etc. and fully maximize. We have done it. We accepted $5-, $10-, $15-, $25-, $100-, $3,900 (the maximum)- dollars contributions for primary and $3900 for general for individual.”
Although, he would have welcomed Filipino or Asian American corporate contributors, who could give the same maximum amount as individual contributors for $3,900 for both the primary and general elections, he also received maximum individual donations from Filipino American business tycoon Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis (the biggest donor), Atty. Gloria Ochoa (who ran but lost a U.S. Congress seat in district that includes Santa Barbara in the 1990’s); Mayor Christopher L. Cabaldon, Maria Banatao, and his mother, Cynthia Bonta.
Bonta said one of the most challenging pre-election moments that he faced was his decision to run for the state assembly seat. “My own concern about running during my term as vice mayor was running during my term (as vice mayor) too soon as I didn’t take it lightly. As I was just elected as city council/vice mayor (in 2010 for a 4-year term that ends in 2014) and I will be running again for (the CA assembly seat that has a two-year term for a maximum of 6 terms), it was a difficult decision to me.”
But what pushed him over the edge to make his decision “was (that I was) very disappointed by the decision made by the state for cutting full funding, taking away redevelopment agencies that hurt our the ability to create jobs. And I believe, we need somebody in Sacramento (the seat of power of state assembly) who can help, (so I decided to run although) (r)aising money is also difficult.”
He said his priority bills that he is going to introduce in the assembly include the following:
1. Create an emergency prevention funds to help cities that have had faced cuts from their crime prevention service such as police and which have experienced fights in violent crimes. It will be a state fund that city can draw on if they had to cut in services that have cuts from crime prevention; And
2. Revive redevelopment agencies eliminated by the state and to help create jobs and economic revitalizations. One of them is the institution of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a special funding tool that will promote public and private investment across the city. This will be used to finance and develop former military properties such as Oakland Army Base, Alameda Naval Air Station and Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. "Create carved out, (exception), and preserve what was the eliminated by the state."
And for bills for the Filipino community?
Assemblyman-elect Bonta will introduce a bill that will help tell story about Filipinos’ contribution to United Farm Workers, whose collaborative efforts between Filipinos and Latinos, would become part of the public school curriculum. This bill will also include narratives of World War II Filipino veterans' contributions to end World War II, including grants of their benefits that have so far been token amounts.
Although born in the Philippines (Quezon City) in 1971 and was brought to the United States when he was two months old because his father (Warren Bonta was an American born in Oxnard, California) and his mother, the former Cynthia Arnaldo, a native of Dumaguete City in the Philippines, he believes he was an American, not a Filipino citizen, when he was born. But he speaks snatches of Filipinos such as “Salamat po. Oo and Mabuhay!” (email@example.com)
Photo of Assemblyman-elect Rob Bonta (From Rob Bonta website)