In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, California Sen. Kamala Harris has announced she will be joining the ranks of Democratic candidates campaigning for the 2020 presidency. Other women running for president in the Democratic Party include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who all hope to succeed where Hillary Clinton ultimately failed in 2016.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 21, 2019
As the second most prominent African American woman to run for president as a Democrat since Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in 1972, Harris’ involvement in the 2020 race is something historic that cannot be overlooked. However, her presidential bid is not something that comes without controversy due to her long and somewhat sullied past in public service.
The daughter of immigrants (a Jamaican professor and a South Indian cancer researcher), Harris is known for her strong, outspoken nature, and unwillingness to back down in the face of political pressure. In 1989 Harris finished her studies, earning a degree in law and went on to work as a deputy district attorney for the next eight years in Alameda County, California.
From there Harris became the district attorney in 2004, and the attorney general of California in 2010. Undoubtedly, Harris’s greatest achievement was being the first South Asian American and second black woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. It was during her time on the Judiciary Committee that Harris began to be seen on a more national level.
In recent years, Harris has come to be known for her progressive rhetoric on LGBT+ issues, immigration reform, sexual assault, women’s rights and civil rights. Harris made waves with viral videos of her questioning Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and she is vocal about her opposition to President Trump and his policies.
The president tried to end DACA in 2017.
He slashed and ended TPS protections in 2018.
In December, he shut down the government.
Using people as leverage is immoral. Reopen the government now.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 20, 2019
Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?pic.twitter.com/lDcXPZ56hX
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 6, 2018
Decidedly, Harris supports Medicare-for-All, environmental preservation, tax credits for the middle class and major reforms involving immigration and criminal justice. The specifics of her campaign promises and being a candidate “for the people” are not yet clear, although it can be assumed she will be upholding most of the issues she advocated for during the midterm elections.
While her apparent Twitter clout and #resistance facade are reminiscent of the young Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Harris’s history involving past legislation and stances is something that has alienated many from the black community, specifically, and has others wondering if she can be trusted as a Democratic candidate for liberal change.
Harris’ work as a “top cop” prosecutor in California has painted her as a fairly contradictory figure, and her involvement with law enforcement as a woman-of-color has not won her any points as an ally. In Harris’s latest book titled The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, she provides a rosy, feel-good story about her life, her social justice triumphs and her ‘#woke’ political beliefs. Yet this novel glares over the things Harris has said and done in the past, ignoring every stance she has taken that make these progressive words seem hypocritical.
Over the years it seems that Harris has flip-flopped on a lot of issues to end up on both the right and wrong sides of history. First, she laughed at the idea of recreational marijuana legalization, and now she seems to have no problem with the idea of it on a federal level. Once Harris stood up against enforcing the death penalty on a man who killed a police officer, but then she went on to defend the death penalty system in court.
On one hand, Harris is an advocate for programs that address police officers’ racial biases and prevent first-time drug usage offenders from seeing jail time, as well as services that help prisoners re-enter the community. Conversely, despite her widely accepted “smart on crime” approach as a means to challenge Ronald Reagan’s ‘war on drugs‘, Harris oversaw a dramatic increase in the felony-conviction rate in California.
Jailing parents over truancy rates, blocking the release of nonviolent offenders (an “important labor pool”) from over-crowded state prisons, denying a transgender inmate their gender-confirmation surgery, endangering sex workers, siding against police body cameras, and refusing to investigate clear instances of police brutality are among the worst things Harris has done in her past.
These are all actions and decisions she has yet to acknowledge, apologize and take accountability for. And so far Harris hasn’t done as much as she could administratively to demonstrate that she has changed.
At this stage, Harris must up her game to be a strong contender to defeat Trump and all of the other possible Democratic candidates in 2020. In order to stand a chance against Warren and Gillibrand, other big names in politics with extremely liberal platforms, Harris has to bring something to the table that they aren’t. One option would be to try and convince marginalized communities, especially those who are black and incarcerated, that as a woman of color and a political leader, she is fighting for them. Another would be for Harris to take a side for once, and fully embrace her stances on things like the Black Lives Matter movement, prison reform, LGBT rights, the death penalty and climate change.
On the flip side, Harris could use her background in law enforcement to appease a more conservative audience in the Midwest and in other purple states. She could also lean into her impartial tendencies, and stop tweeting and advocating for so many liberal agendas. In this way Harris would be a compromise between figures like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and a full Republican candidate.
Overall, while her resume isn’t the cleanest, Harris has a platform that includes the most important parts of the liberal agenda, and she would be representation for a community of people that our government has been sorely lacking. Harris is an inspiration to a good portion of Americans, and a necessary champion for immigrants, women as well as others struggling in today’s society. It’s about time we had a woman, critically one of color, that deserves to be rallied behind and brought to a position of leadership in our country.
“As my mother used to say, “you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” –Kamala Harris
Harris’s campaign will start in her hometown of Oakland, California on January 27.
Photo: Miller Hawkins/MSNBC