Mr. Becerra also created a first-of-its kind state-level environmental justice bureau, focused on the unequal effect that pollution and other forms of environmental damage have on health in the most vulnerable communities.
And he settled a landmark antitrust case against Sutter Health, a Northern California network of doctors and hospitals, which agreed to pay out $575 million in damages and have its business operations monitored for 10 years. The lawsuit originally filed by a grocery workers’ union health plan claimed that Sutter’s anticompetitive behavior was driving up health costs.
The suit was a “paradigm case” on behalf of consumers, said Matt Cantor, a lawyer at Constantine Cannon, a New York firm that worked with Mr. Becerra’s office on a related suit. That Mr. Becerra chose to bring it, he said, “shows that he’s very concerned about what the average American family and average American employer has to pay in health insurance premiums.”
A native of Sacramento, Mr. Becerra is the son of immigrant parents; his mother emigrated from Mexico as a young woman and his father was born in Sacramento but raised in Tijuana. They married at 18 and moved to California, where the elder Mr. Becerra worked picking vegetables and laboring in construction — experience that friends say will shape how Mr. Becerra inhabits his job as health secretary.
“I think that it gives him a certain perspective and humility and an appreciation for working people, for ordinary people,” said Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who said Mr. Becerra mentored him and other Latino newcomers on Capitol Hill. “And when you talk to Xavier you see that he’s not a pretentious person.”
At McClatchy High School in Sacramento, he was a high achiever whose extracurriculars included golf, which he taught himself to play, and a leadership group that focused on conflict resolution. “He was a really well-rounded guy — an athlete and a nerd and a leader,” said Karen Skelton, a California political consultant who went to school with him.
He was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from Stanford University in 1980 and Stanford Law School in 1984. In interviews, he has said that he applied to the elite school only because he had filled out a blank application a friend had discarded, and that it was not until he drove with his mother to affluent Palo Alto that he realized his family was not middle class. There, he met his wife, Carolina Reyes, who is now an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies.