Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee for the 2020 election, was the first female district attorney of San Francisco and served as the Attorney General of California. She has a history of breaking barriers as she is only the second female African American United States Senator and the tenth African American United States Senator. She is a highly qualified lawyer and political servant who cares about people and legislation that protects and serves. To learn more about Harris as a political leader and her past achievements I read her book, The Truths We Hold, in which she describes the community that helped shape her and thereby the policies that she has supported, which have helped change California state and our country.
Kamala Harris’ parents met during the civil rights movement while they were both earning their PhDs at Berkeley. In her early life, she was exposed to the civil rights movement and key leaders including Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and author and activist Maya Angelou, who was the first black woman to achieve the title of “bestselling author” for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Harris’ heroes were lawyers, including giants of the civil rights movement like Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Constance Baker Motley. Harris shares that she ”cared a lot about fairness, and saw the law as a tool that can help make things fair.” Harris was inspired by her role models to become a lawyer who could affect change.
Harris chose Howard University for her undergraduate degree, which was Thurgood Marshall’s alma mater. She returned to her native California to attend UC Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, followed by a job as deputy district attorney in Alameda county. She recounts how things have changed since 1990 when she was admitted to the bar. When practicing law in the early 1990s, women wore skirt suits because they “were not permitted to wear pants in the courtroom.” In contrast, it is no longer risqué to wear trousers–Kamala Harris can be seen wearing pants suits on the campaign trail, symbolic of breaking barriers of a historically male dominated public sphere.
Kamala Harris has been breaking through the glass ceiling for decades. “In 2015, 95% of our country’s prosecutors were white, and 79% of those were men.” She helped to break racial and gender barriers in 2003 when she was elected as California’s Attorney General. As a lawyer and political leader, she has been able to “look out for the overlooked, to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard, to see and address the causes of crime, not just their consequences, and to shine a light on the inequality and unfairness that lead to injustice. It is to recognize that not everyone needs punishment, that what many need, quite plainly, is help.”
Her innovative programs have included Back on Track, which was a law enforcement program in which former inmates do community service, get their GEDs, reconnect with family members, pay outstanding child support and remain drug free. Keeping former inmates from returning to the prison system is a huge challenge but Harris’ program had proven results, which led to reform in 33 states that have adopted revised sentencing and corrections policies aimed at promoting alternatives to incarceration and reducing recidivism.” Harris has always had a commitment to long term solutions that make people’s lives better.
One of her first contributions as California District Attorney involved the mortgage crisis of 2010 when the Attorneys General of all 50 states worked together on a joint investigation. At first California was offered $2 billion dollars but after Harris investigated and took action, she helped to secure significant relief for the taxpayers including $20 billion in relief for homeowners, $300 million for the state pension system for investment losses $550 million from SunTrust Mortgage, $200 million from Citigroup, and another $500 million from Bank of America—all to address losses sustained during the mortgage crisis.
On June 26, 2013, Kamala Harris was in attendance in Washington DC when the California Supreme Court ruled Proposition 8- an amendment to the California Constitution that would strip same-sex couples of the legal rights that come with marriage- as unconstitutional. In celebration of the landmark decision, Kamala Harris performed wedding ceremonies at the State Capitol.
As Harris explained: “Whether we are fighting for transgender rights or for an end to racial bias, whether we are fighting against housing discrimination or insidious immigration laws, no matter who we are or how we look or how little it may seem we have in common, the truth is, in the battle for civil rights and economic justice, we are all the same.”
After her many successes as Attorney General, she ran for the U.S. Senate to keep “fighting for families feeling the burden of stagnant wages, soaring housing costs, and diminishing opportunity; for people imprisoned in a broken criminal justice system; for students exploited by predatory lenders and burdened by skyrocketing tuition; for victims of fraud and white-collar crime; for immigrant communities, for women, for older people.”
Once elected, she served on the Intelligence, Homeland Security, Budget, and Environment and Public Works committees asking tough questions and working for the people on issues of counterterrorism, securing our borders, the challenge of nuclear proliferation, as well as gathering intelligence while protecting civil liberties. She is concerned that America is ready to deal with cyber warfare and will have secure elections. She voted against John Kelly’s confirmation for Homeland Security Secretary as he “wasn’t prepared to keep the nation’s promises” especially on DACA and immigrant rights. Harris has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in Congress—the DREAM Act—which gives these young people [DACA] a permanent path to citizenship.
Harris wants all Americans to have access to affordable health care. She asks “Why are Americans paying so much more for the medicines we need? Because, unlike many other advanced countries, the U.S. government doesn’t negotiate prices on prescription drugs.” She focuses on solutions to help address the root of the problems. Whether it is the Affordable Care Act, the opioid crisis, or families who have been separated by immigration policies, Kamala Harris cares about helping Americans achieve a good life.
Kamala Harris has a vision of a united America: “For all of our differences, for all the battles, for all the fights, we are still one American family, and we should act like it. We have so much more in common than what separates us. We need to paint a picture of the future in which everyone can see themselves, and everyone is seen…a better future is possible for us all.”