Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, is striking back at Republican challenger Steve Slauson, who questioned Bonta’s U.S. citizenship in a letter to the editor published yesterday in the Alameda Sun. In an email sent to supporters today, Bonta called the claim a “Baseless, Racist Trump-style Birther Attack,” referencing Donald Trump’s repeated “birther” claims against President Barack Obama.
Bonta was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. as a young child — a fact he has often referred to since entering politics as an Alameda councilmember in 2010. His immigrant story and parents’ work in the 1970s with labor leader Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers was one of his main talking points during his successful 2012 run for the state Assembly.
But Slauson said he heard rumors in Alameda’s Filipino American community recently that Bonta was not a citizen. “I’m just doing my due diligence on the guy,” said Slauson, who added, “I don’t like him and what he’s done.” Slauson reached out to Bonta’s Sacramento office and was told Bonta was indeed a U.S. citizen through his father. Bonta’s office confirmed having a conversation on the topic, but the caller did not identify himself as Bonta’s assembly opponent, they said.
Slauson, though, was not satisfied with the answer. “Show us and it goes away. It’s a major issue, if it’s true,” he said. “Show us the money, baby, and we’ll have a beer and drown our sorrows together.”
In an interview, Bonta responded with uncharacteristic anger toward Slauson’s claims. “He has revealed himself to be a racist, a bigot, xenophobic, and intolerant,” he said. “He likes to ask Brown people if they are American citizens. It is insidious. End of story.”
Bonta added that President Trump’s rhetoric toward minorities is fueling this type of discourse. “It is exactly what Trump did to the first person of color elected president of the United States,” he said. “It’s the same playbook. I am a Filipino American who has won elected office every time I have run and someone who trounced him in the primary, and he’s not taking it very well.”
Bonta, meanwhile, is using the episode to his advantage. In his email today blasting Slauson’s claims, he also asks supporters to donate $9, $22, or $71 — which is Bonta’s birthdate.
Bonta has represented Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro in the Assembly since 2012 and faced Slauson in the recent June primary, winning 89 percent of the vote. A rematch is set for this November.
Unlike Bonta’s past Republican challengers, most of whom have assumed low-profile campaigns, Slauson appears to be taking a proactive approach to the fall race. He is also one of the main proponents behind a recall campaign, in its early stages, against Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella for, what Slauson characterizes as her “improperly handling” of the city manager scandal.
Bonta said he would not dignify Slauson’s request to see proof of citizenship with a response, but confirms he’s a citizen and has a valid U.S. Passport. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a passport is the best proof of U.S. citizenship. Over the years, Bonta has traveled internationally many times, even documenting trips to the Philippines and China on various social media sites.
Slauson denies his demand to see Bonta’s birth certificate is in any way inspired by Trump’s infamous needling of President Obama to prove he was born in the U.S. “It’s a typical approach,” he said of Bonta tying him to Trump.
The uproar among the far-right fueled Trump’s early rise, but later, when Obama relented and posted his birth certificate, Trump demurred, acknowledging during a presidential debate that Obama was a citizen, but that Hillary Clinton’s campaign instead had created the birther movement.