Kamala Harris is currently the junior senator from the State of California. She is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential election. Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Harris served as the Attorney General for the State of California and the District Attorney for San Francisco. She is a native of the Bay Area, born in Oakland, California. She notably dated former San Francisco Mayor and California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who appointed Harris to high paying state commissions while they were dating.
After serving as California’s Attorney General for six years, Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. While serving as Senator she has supported policies such as the Green New Deal, free college tuition, starting “from scratch” on ICE, and eliminating private health insurance as part of a Medicare for All plan.
Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California on October 20, 1964. She graduated from Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec, Canada in 1981. In 1986, she graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in political science and economics. She went on to attend University of California, Hastings College of the Law and graduated in 1989 with a JD. She failed the California State Bar exam in 1989, but then was admitted the following year.
Following law school, Harris served as Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California. While serving in that capacity she became romantically connected to then California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
In 1998, Harris started working in the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. In 2003, Harris was elected to serve as District Attorney of San Francisco. In 2009, she published her first book Smart on Crime. The book “examines new, unconventional ideas on how our society can reform our broken criminal justice system.”
Harris ran for statewide office and was elected in 2010 as California Attorney General. She was re-elected Attorney General in 2014. On August 22, 2014, Harris married Douglas Emhoff. He was previously divorced and has two children.
Political and Professional Background
Harris began her legal career serving as the Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California in 1990 and served in that position until 1998. In 1994, she began dating California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In 1994, while Harris and Brown were in a relationship Brown appointed Harris to two high salary state boards and commissions. While dating, Brown appointed Harris to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which paid $97,088 a year. Six months later, Harris was appointed to the California Medical Assistance Commission, which paid a salary of $72,000 a year. From 1998 to 2003, Harris worked in the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
On November 4, 2003, Kamala Harris narrowly lost in the District Attorney of San Francisco election to Terence Hallinan, 33.65 percent to 35.85 percent. The close result led to a runoff. Harris went on to defeat incumbent Terence Hallinan 56.6 percent to 43.5 percent, electing her to be District Attorney of San Francisco. She published her first book, Smart on Crime in 2009. The book detailed Harris’ thoughts on reforming the criminal justice system.
During her tenure as District Attorney, Harris refused to pursue death penalty charges against David Hill in 2004. Hill was accused of murdering a police officer, Isaac Espinoza, and wounding another officer, Barry Parker. The San Francisco Police Officers Association and the California Peace Officers’ Association were just two of the groups that urged Harris to seek the death penalty against Hill.
In March 2004, Harris dismissed six felony and misdemeanor battery cases against protestors who were arrested during demonstrations against the Iraq War. These charges included assault of a police officer.
In 2005, LaShuan Harris, a mentally ill woman, was arraigned on charges of murdering her three children. Harris said in a statement after the arraignment that she would not rule out the death penalty in the case. The public defender on the case criticized Harris for not immediately ruling out the death penalty for a mentally ill defendant. In 2006, Harris ultimately ruled out the death penalty and LaShuan Harris was sent to a mental hospital rather than state prison.
In 2006, a gang crime witness, Terrell Rollins, was shot and killed while under the protection of the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. In response to the murder, Harris called for a summit on witness intimidation. However, she did not mention Rollins at all. Harris said that the first rule of witness protection is that a witness should not go to dangerous places. She also claimed Rollins was “far, far away” from San Francisco. That claim was refuted by The San Francisco Examiner, which reported that two anonymous sources said Rollins had been relocated to San Mateo county.The murder charges against gang members in the Rollins case were ultimately dropped due to lack of evidence.
While Harris was District Attorney she faced criticism for her handling of a crime lab scandal that plagued her office. San Francisco officials shut down drug testing at the police crime lab amid allegations that Deborah Madden, a former technician, had stolen and used cocaine she was supposed to be analyzing. At the end of the first week of the crime lab shutdown, about 60 drug cases were dismissed because of the allegations. Harris’ office estimated that prosecutors would have to release roughly 30 suspects per day because of the lab shutdown. In March 2010, prosecutors had to drop 46 narcotics cases because of the scandal.
San Francisco defense lawyers questioned why San Francisco’s prosecutors failed to disclose Madden’s previous criminal record. Public defender Jeff Adachi sent a letter to Harris’s office demanding details about the internal investigation. A judge ordered prosecutors to release documents related to the scandal, which revealed that the Assistant District Attorney had voiced concern about Madden’s behavior in November 2009. Harris claimed she was not briefed on the November 2009 email until February 2010. Harris announced that the State Attorney General’s office would handle any prosecutions related to the drug lab scandal. The subsequent investigation revealed that more than 80 San Francisco police office had records that prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys. Adachi said Harris’ office’s conduct was “unethical.” A judge also ruled that the District Attorney’s office violated defendants’ constitutional rights.
Harris’ District Attorney office also faced scrutiny with another crime lab issue when an anonymous whistleblower alleged there was a mix-up of DNA samples in a homicide case, which was concealed by the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab. The American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) confirmed there had been a mix-up. Rockne Harmon, a former prosecutor and consultant for the District Attorney’s office, was hired to investigate the DNA lab supervisor. His report was ultimately buried, and the District Attorney’s office denied its existence. Harmon told SF Weekly that he was concerned that the District Attorney’s office was concealing his report. Harris denied that she had ever seen Harmon’s report although her office ultimately released eight pages of the report.
In November 2010, Harris won the election to serve as the next Attorney General of California, defeating Steve Cooley (R) 46.1 percent to 45.3 percent. Harris was re-elected in 2014, defeating Ronald Gold (R) 57.49 percent to 42.51 percent.
While serving as California Attorney General, Harris’ office fought against the release of Daniel Larsen. Larsen was sentenced to 27 years-to-life in prison under the California three strikes law for possession of a concealed weapon, because his now-disbarred attorney failed to call any witnesses. After a federal judge approved Larsen’s release, Harris’ office stepped in arguing that he remain behind bars during the appeal, claiming he was a danger to society. The California Innocence Project said Harris’s office wanted to keep Larsen in prison on “a technicality.” The Los Angeles Times and called for Harris to “back off and let Larsen go,” saying Larsen was “a victim of continuing injustice.”
In April 2015, Michelle Lael-Norsworthy, a transgender inmate, was granted sex-reassignment surgery. The U.S. district judge which directed California perform the surgery said the decision to not address Lael-Norsworthy’s symptoms was “medically unacceptable.” Harris appealed the ruling arguing that there was “no medical or psychological need for immediate sex-reassignment surgery” and called for a stay on the ruling pending appeal. Harris maintained that she was required to defend the state but faced backlash from activists, who noted that her decision to defend the state in this case was “a choice” that “inspired consternation in the transgender community.”
As California Attorney General, Harris refused to order DNA tests that could exonerate Kevin Cooper after decades in prison. Cooper, an African-American man, was convicted of murdering a white family and put on death row despite no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. Harris showed no interest in resurrecting the case despite evidence that Cooper had been wrongly convicted. Cooper said Harris “turned her back on him.” As a Senator, Harris urged the state to allow further testing in the Cooper case, but did not address why she had blocked additional DNA testing as Attorney General. Critics of Cooper’s treatment have called his case “a failure at every level.”
George Gage was convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter. After trial, the judge discovered that the prosecution had withheld “potentially exculpatory evidence.” In 2015, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard Gage’s case, Harris’ office defended the conviction on the grounds that Gage, who was forced to act as his own attorney, had not properly raised the legal issue in lower court. The appellate judges sent the case to mediation, but Harris continued to pursue the case. Due to the continued prosecution, the appellate court upheld the conviction and Gage continues to serve a 70-year prison sentence.
In the midst of her second term as Attorney General of California, Harris ran for U.S. Senate and advanced to the general election on June 6, 2016 after California’s jungle primary with 39.9 percent of the vote. On November 8, 2016, Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate as the junior senator from California, defeating Loretta Sanchez (D) 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent.
California editorial boards criticized Harris’s record on criminal justice during her time as Attorney General. The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board remarked that she was “too cautious and unwilling to stake out a position on controversial issues.” The editorial board considered her to be “more focused on her political career than on the job she was elected to do.”
The Sacramento Bee editorial board panned Harris’ tenure as Attorney General saying“unfortunately, she was cautious, giving the impression that she was thinking less about being a great attorney general and more about her next office. She has offered superficial if not slanted analyses of criminal justice ballot measures, and has failed to take stands on issues relevant to her office.”
On the Issues
Medicare for All
Harris co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’ single-payer health care bill, the Medicare For All Act of 2017. Harris was the first Senator to announce that she would support the legislation stating she believed “it’s just the right thing to do.”
In addition to the Medicare for All Act, Harris co-sponsored a bill which would expand the public option to buy into Medicare as the next step after ObamaCare.
In February 2019, during a CNN town hall, Harris stated that she was in favor of eliminating private health insurance in favor of a government run Medicare for All program.
Harris has called for reexamining the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). In June 2018, Senator Harris was asked in an interview if she agreed that ICE should be abolished. Harris responded, “we need to probably think about starting from scratch because there’s a lot that is wrong with the way that it’s conducting itself.”According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Harris’ comments were “about as far as any prominent Democrat has gone” on the issue of ICE.
According to her spokesperson, “Harris is not ‘embracing abolishing’ ICE, nor is she calling for ending enforcement of the nation’s borders.” Yet, she “does not yet have a fully realized vision of what a revamped ICE would look like.”
Harris is supportive of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. She was “the first Senate Democrat to embrace the strategy of rejecting any bill that didn’t include protections for DACA recipients,” which subsequently resulted in a government shutdown in 2018. While serving as District Attorney of San Francisco Harris supported a 2008 “city policy that required law enforcement to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to federal immigration authorities if they were arrested and suspected of committing a felony, regardless of whether they were actually convicted of a crime.”
Kamala Harris is supportive of the Green New Deal legislation. Although some estimates have the policy costing $93 trillion, Harris believes “we can afford it” and dismissed criticism stating “it’s not about a cost. It’s about an investment.”
Harris has also stated that “California’s climate and environmental protections are a model for the nation.”
While Attorney General of California, she touted her work “defending challenges to the state’s Cap-and-Trade auctions and its precedent-setting Low Carbon Fuels Standard.”
Free College Tuition
Harris is in favor of free college tuition. In 2017, she co-sponsored the College For All Act, which “would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 – about 80 percent of the population – and make community college tuition- and fee-free for all.”
When the 2017 bill was introduced, Harris wrote that “we have to stop burdening our students with outrageous amounts of debt… To address this issue, I am introducing legislation with Senator Bernie Sanders and my colleagues that will make public colleges and universities tuition-free for the vast majority of Americans.”
In her January 2019 presidential announcement speech, Harris stated “I am running to declare education is a fundamental right, and we will guarantee that right with universal pre-K and debt-free college.”
Washington Post: The Trailer: What we learned about Harris 2020 this weekend
Fox News: Kamala Harris’ new book published with praise for ‘leadership’ of now-disgraced former aide
CNN: Kamala Harris supported 2008 San Francisco policy that reported arrested undocumented juveniles to ICE
Washington Free Beacon: Kamala Harris Calls For Legalizing Prostitution in a Reverse of Long-Held Views
CNN: Kamala Harris mischaracterizes San Francisco policy she backed that reported arrested undocumented juveniles to ICE
Huffington Post: Kamala Harris Hasn’t Denounced Her Support For Policy That Ruined Young Immigrant Lives
Yahoo News: Why did Kamala Harris let Herbalife off the hook?
RealClearPolitics: Harris Donor’s Past Raises Money-Influence Questions