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Hello, Madam President: Kamala Harris

Personal Background:

Kamala Harris via Kamala Harris 

Californian Senator Kamala Harris was born on Oct. 20, 1964, in Oakland, California to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. Harris studied political science and economics at Howard University, then attended Hastings College, where she earned her law degree in 1989. After university, Harris became a district attorney in 2004, after quickly earning a reputation for her severity in prosecuting cases such as sexual assault and gang violence.

In 2009, her first book, Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer, was released and received praise for addressing the problem of criminal recidivism. By that time, Harris was gaining notoriety for her strong-willed, progressive stances on politics, and later in 2012, Harris delivered a memorable speech at the Democratic National Convention, bursting into the political scene.

As her political popularity grew, Harris won the 2016 midterm election, becoming the first Indian American as well as the second African American ever to become a senator in the United States. Harris announced her run for president in the 2020 election on January 21st, 2019. 

Voting Record and Major Bills Sponsored/Authored:

Harris currently sits on the following committees:

Senate Committee on the Budget

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Current Ratings By External Groups:

Planned Parenthood Action Fund: 100%

NIAC Action: B

Americans for Prosperity: 0%

FreedomWorks: 0%

NumbersUSA: 0%

Graph via Gov Track

Harris’s ideology and leadership placement indicate the senator is more radically left than the majority of her Democratic colleagues, with Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand leaning slightly more to the left than her. Harris wields a stern and passionate approach to current issues in politics such as abortion, climate change, and immigration, allowing her to be one of the vocal voices of the far left. Harris’s more radical ideas within her ideology include her willingness to impeach President Trump, eagerness to ban assault weapons and firearms, and influence on reproductive rights for women.

Main Goals and Platforms:

Image via New York Times; President hopeful Kamala Harris waves to a crowd of supporters waving her sign.

As one of the more radical Democratic hopefuls, Harris believes in many leftist approaches to the current issues in politics. This includes her advocacy for the ban on assault weapons and firearms, especially their importation from foreign countries. Harris is also an avid supporter of freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Unlike fellow candidate Beto O’Rourke, Harris endorsed Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill, a bill that would implement a healthcare system that would provide every citizen affordable healthcare, abolishing the nation’s private health insurance status quo. “Health care should be a right for everyone in this country, not a privilege for the few,” Harris stated in an April press release. “Medicare is the most popular health plan in the country because it works. Medicare for All finally makes sure every American has affordable, comprehensive health care.”

Besides that, Harris has proposed many plans such as providing DREAMers with green cards using a series of executive actions such as creating a program that paroles DREAMers, allowing them to gain access to a green card as soon as they can.

Furthermore, Harris proposed the Reproductive Rights Act, a bill that forces states that have violated Roe v. Wade to abide by the requirements in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, meaning those states must receive approval from the Justice Department to enforce restrictive laws on abortion.

As of late, Harris introduced a bill that would expand access to the medical drug PrEP, an effective medication that, when taken daily, can reduce HIV infection by 92%. The bill called the PrEP Access and Coverage Act will fund programs in facilitating access to PrEP while prohibiting life-insurance companies from denying PrEP to its customers.

Lastly, Harris plans to combat the ongoing issue of poverty by providing affordable housing for low-income families and increase teachers’ salaries with an approximate $13,500 raise.

As for her perspective on the current administration, Kamala Harris has strongly supported the idea of impeaching President Trump, accusing the president of “deregulating and deconstructing our government and our democracy” while also calling his leadership “a pathological failure.” When Harris spoke to CNN during the town hall in April, she demanded that “Congress [should] take the steps towards impeachment.” The presidential hopeful added, “I have also witnessed folks in the United States Congress, and in particular in the GOP, who have been presented with many reasons to push back against this president and they have not.”

Criticisms:

Image via Mercury News; Presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaks to a crowd of reporters after a rally in October.

Any presidential candidate isn’t a presidential candidate without heavy criticism. Harris is no exception.

Although Harris is vocal about criminal justice reform, Harris’s record as a prosecutor prove otherwise, critics say. Looking at her record, it’s hard to determine exactly what she wanted within the justice system. As a prosecutor, Harris refused to allow the death penalty on a man who killed a police officer, while at the same time, avidly supported the death penalty within the justice system. She pushed for training programs to fix police officers’ racial bias in California, yet stayed silent on many of the police brutality cases her people wanted her to investigate. She backed up programs that provided people with a job instead of landing themselves back into the prison cycle, however, refused to set people free after they were proven innocent. Thus, Harris’s contradictory record makes it hard for many voters to trust that she will carry out with what she promises.

Harris’s book, Smart on Crime, provides a clever take on criminal justice. As she explains in her book, “getting ‘smart on crime’ does not mean reducing sentences or punishments for crimes.” However, Harris is often seen by critics as being tough on crime, not smart, contradicting her argument for justice reform. This is proven when Harris accepted the position of San Francisco’s district attorney, the felony conviction rate rose to approximately 52% to 67% in only three years.

On top of her unconvincing efforts to reform the criminal justice system, many LGBT+ voters are unconvinced that Harris will advocate for their rights, despite her past major role in legalizing same-sex marriage. As an attorney, Harris, on two accounts, denied gender re-assignment surgery to two transgender female prisoners, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy and Shiloh Quine.

Harris combats these criticisms by stating the accusations were “overblown” with “no question.” She stated in a recent interview with CBS, “When I became a prosecutor and when I was elected district attorney and also attorney general of California, I implemented some of the most significant reforms to date during those years that had been implemented,” Harris said. “I created one of the first reentry initiatives. It became a model. It was designated as a model in the United States for what law enforcement should do to be as I call it, ‘smart on crime.'”

Popularity and Electability:

Image via Hello Beautiful, Kamala Harris, surrounded by her husband and daughter, waves to the crowd after announcing her presidential run.

At first, Harris kicked off her run strong with solid name recognition and a strong-willed, charismatic persona. Within a week from Harris’s announcement to run, she had gained approximately 3% within the polls, rising to 10%, placing her right below fellow candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But since Harris announced her campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the presidential hopeful has lost her campaign’s momentum, with a staggering 13% of Democratic voters now supporting Harris. Senior advisor of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Jen Palmeri, believes Harris’s lack of momentum in the polls is due to a prejudiced case of sexism (and also possibly racism, considering she is a woman of color).

On the other hand, writer Ryan Cooker from The Week believes many voters are untrustworthy of Harris due to her past as a prosecutor, considering how harsh her sentences were on many convicted felons during her time as San Francisco’s district attorney and as Senator from California. This may also be the reason why California, her home state, places Harris on fourth place, making her placement barely any different from the national polls.

On the bright side, without any PAC money from lobbyists or corporations, Harris has already raised approximately 12 million dollars with only the help of American citizens. This exceeds the 7 million dollars raised by fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg. This, however, doesn’t beat Beto O’Rourke’s whopping 6.1 million dollars that he earned just 24 hours after he announced his presidential run back in March.

While this does look like an uphill battle for the former district attorney, Harris still has as long as she wants in the presidential election. Opportunities will come and go for Harris to either drop her ratings or raise them, and as the first Democratic debate looms ahead, this may be her chance to make or break her presidential run.

Image: PBS News

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Chloe Zhao
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