First South Asian-American senator in history. Second African American woman to serve as a senator. First Black American and the first woman to serve as attorney general of California. These titles all belong to Kamala Harris, who, after being named former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, has become a household name. Senator Harris ran for President in 2020, but decided to suspend her campaign this past December. Biden selected Harris as his running mate in August. Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, to Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Her late mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was an activist and breast cancer researcher, and Harris’s father, Dr. Donald Harris, who is a retired economics professor, taught at Stanford University. Harris’s parents separated when she was 5 years old, and divorced two years later. Their divorce and subsequent custody battle was bitter, and left Harris and her sister estranged from their father. Harris and her sister, Maya, however, are close, and Maya, who is also politically inclined, served as Harris’ presidential campaign chairwoman for a time. In 2014, Harris married Douglas Emhoff, becoming a step-mother to his two children Cole and Ella Emhoff.
Harris attended Howard University where she was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Harris went on to receive her law degree from the University of California, Hastings. Her sorority sister, Jill Louis, says Harris was, “very even keeled, not fazed, and not in that ‘I don’t care’ way — in a focused way.” Harris’s focus, profound desire to impart change, and tenacious character not only made her a talented political mind, but also someone who doesn’t back down from a challenge. Harris has always said that her childhood, from her experiences with school integration, to the way her mother raised her, to her sister’s steadfast support, has shaped who she is and what she fights for today. In the words of Former Vice President Biden, “Kamala is smart. She’s tough, She’s experienced.” Harris’s experience as a prosecutor and time in the Senate has bolstered the Biden-Harris ticket and has convinced a wider audience of people to vote for Biden in November.
Harris’s political career began in 1990 when she took on the position of Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County. She specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases and served for 8 years before moving on to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, where she was the managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit. In this position, Harris prosecuted serial felony offenders and three strikes cases. After working as the managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit, Harris was named the head of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Families and Children.
As San Francisco District Attorney in 2003, Harris founded an initiative to provide education and employment to first-time drug offenders. Harris maintained a positive reputation until her last year as District Attorney when she became embroiled in a scandal that would later be dubbed “Crime Lab Scandal.” Harris compromised the forensic testing done at her facility after failing to report a lab technician who had been using illegal substances in the workplace to defense attorneys. Harris dismissed over 1,000 drug-related criminal cases due to this mass error. While this misstep could have lost Harris the 2010 election for California’s Attorney General, she won. As attorney general of California for just under two terms, Harris prosecuted transnational gangs, defended the Affordable Care Act, defended California’s climate change law, won a $25-billion settlement for homeowners affected by the foreclosure crisis, and helped institute marriage equality. However, despite arguing in favor of criminal justice reform, Harris avoided prosecuting cases involving killings by police officers, which resulted in an outbreak in protests organized by progressive groups and organizations. In 2014, after Michael Brown’s murder, the public asked Harris to prosecute a series of police shootings in San Francisco, but she did not end up proscecuting. Two years later, however, while delivering her second inaugural address, Harris changed her tune and said the nation’s police were looking at a “crisis of confidence.” During her second term as a senator, Harris took on cases related to police brutality and police reform, proposing an expansion in her office that allowed for police misconduct investigations. Harris also reviewed two police departments and backed an investigation by the Justice Department in San Francisco. Despite her efforts, Harris became known for being politically cautious, often hesitating when it came to advocating for certain social reforms. In light of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Harris has taken a completely different approach, no longer toeing the line, but openly expressing her disgust and promoting dialogue about police reform and race in America.
Harris serves on four committees in the Senate: The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Committee on the Budget, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. Colleagues from both parties have praised Harris as not only being an excellent interrogator but also an invaluable member of her respective committees. With a Republic majority in the Senate, Harris’s position in each committee, while invaluable to the Democratic Party, poses a possible threat to the democratic party’s agenda if she were to become Vice President.
While the response to Harris’s Vice Presidential nomination ruffled feathers in both the Democratic and Republican parties, Harris has been successful in appealing to both progressive voters and undecided voters. The California senator states that her experiences as a Black woman in America has given her the insight needed to dedicate a life to fighting injustice and amplifying the voices of the unheard. As a Black, Indian-American woman who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the Berkeley flats and played an integral role in school integration, Harris understands the need for the government to address systemic racism. If elected, Harris will bring the tenacity and drive that got her to the Senate to the Vice Presidency. While President Trump has been vocal about his disapproval of Senator Harris, it is undeniably true that beyond the campaign, beyond the politics, beyond the pant suits and sparkling eyes, there is a woman who has already sparked change in America.
Disclaimer: This article pulls upon coverage from The New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post