Indian-American Assemblymember Ash Kalra wants to be California’s next attorney general, a post held not so long ago by another Indian-American, now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Kalra (D-San Jose) is readying to replace Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who will be the secretary of health and human services in President Joe Biden’s administration.
If Becerra is confirmed, California Gov.ernor Gavin Newsom will appoint the state’s next attorney general.
In a chat with indica News, Kalra opened up about why he thinks he is the best candidate for the position, compared to his peers Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, David Chiu, and Congressman Ted Lieu.
Kalra was candid, admitting each of the candidates who have shown interest for the attorney general’s seat, have “great qualities.”
But, he said, his legislative experience combined with “more than a decade of service as a public defender” sets him apart, and gives him “a unique stance on criminal justice reform.”
“As someone who worked as a deputy public defender for over a decade and has been an effective leader on progressive, thoughtful criminal justice reform focusing on what truly contributes to our public safety, I would be transformational as an attorney general,” Kalra told indica News.
Asked what motivates him, Kalra said: “Being an assemblymember has been a tremendous privilege and I have had the opportunity to serve not just my constituents but pass laws to improve the lives of 40 million Californians.”
“As attorney general, I will not only protect and defend California’s values as it applies to protecting our environment, immigrant communities and corporate abuses against consumers and workers, but I can use the office to focus on keeping our state safe and healthy.”
Kalra, a Democrat, represents Assembly District 27, which encompasses most of San Jose, including downtown and the East Side.
He is the first Indian American to serve in California’s state legislature.
He previously served as a San José City councilmember for eight years and was a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County for 11 years before that.
In his three years in office, he has been prolific, having 27 bills signed. He has fought for affordable, low-income housing and against homelessness as a co-author of SB 50 and AB 330.
He is also the chair of the Labor and Employment Committee for the State Assembly and has championed for union rights.
On law enforcement, Kalra said creating a more equitable criminal justice system that holds individuals, law enforcement and the judicial system accountable is paramount for public safety.
“Millions have taken to the streets over the past year calling into question law enforcement practices. We need to have honest conversations not only about the practices of law enforcement but whether we have put too many responsibilities on their plate,” said Kalra.
He noted how rather than beefing up the armory, the state should focus more on mental health services, to interact with certain cases that can bring down unwanted force and persecution.
“We should refocus resources to mental health treatment and social service supports so the police are not the first responders for every issue that arises in our community. We also must be independent when investigating and overseeing police office conduct, particularly as it applies to officers involved in shootings.”
Toronto-born Kalra, an alumnus of University of California Santa Barbara, said that after serving an active public life for more than a decade, he was finally glad to see more of community members taking up political roles.
“It has been great to see more political interest from the Indian-American and South Asian-American community,” Kalra said.
“I hope the fact that more of us are seeking a variety of opportunities to serve will help further educate and garner interest from our community as to the many positions of power and influence that exist to serve our community,” he added.