Kamala Harris was born on Oct 20, 1964, in Oakland, California to immigrant parents. Her Jamaican father taught at Stanford University, and her Indian mother was a cancer researcher. She earned a degree in political science and economics at Howard University (B.A., 1986), and a law degree from Hastings College of Law (1989).
Career, Politics, and Milestones
In the 1990s, Harris worked at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. There, she gained a reputation for toughness as she prosecuted gang violence, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse. Harris rose steadily through the ranks; in 2004, she became district attorney. She was narrowly elected the attorney general of the state, making her the first female and the first African American to hold the position.
The following year, Harris proved her political independence by rejecting pressure from President Barrack Obama’s administration to settle a nationwide lawsuit against mortgage owners over unfair practices. She pressed California’s case in 2012 and won a judgment five times more than initially offered.
Her refusal to defend Proposition 8 (2008), which banned same-sex marriage in California, was instrumental to the eventual overturn in 2013. In her words: “I declined to defend Proposition 8 because it violates the constitution. The Supreme Court has described marriage as a fundamental right 14 times since 1888. The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”
In 2014, Harris was re-elected attorney general by a wide margin. On November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer, which made her California’s third female U.S. Senator, and the first of Jamaican or Indian Ancestry.
Harris has remained consistent in her support for the legalization of recreational marijuana, Medicare-for-all, sanctuary cities, passing a Dream Act, and lowering taxes for the working and middle classes while raising taxes on corporations and America’s wealthiest 1%. In campaign speeches, debates, and political ads, Harris also mentions her role in forcing banking giants to cough up $20 billion in mortgage relief. Her work defending same-sex marriage and reducing recidivism among drug offenders have also been at the top of her campaign talking points.
On January 21, 2019, Harris formally announced her candidacy for president in 2020. She joined an already teeming field of Democrats gearing up to take on President Donald Trump and a diverse Democratic party increasingly dominated by a new generation of women and minority candidates.
Speaking at the event, she vowed to be a fighter “for the people” and to advocate for the “largest middle-class tax cut in a generation,” as she champions progressive issues. The rally attracted 20,000 attendees, with about 12,000 more around the venue.
According to Harris, it was time to restore what she views as “the loss of American values.” Her words: “We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” the California senator said. “We are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question. Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America: We are better than this.”
Securing the Democratic nomination would make Harris the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American woman to be a major-party nominee for the president. Her Sunday announcement also placed her in the league of her predecessors, Shirley Chisholm and Carol Moseley Braun, two African-American females who have previously vied for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the announcement, she also becomes the third sitting senator to make her 2020 ambitions official.
What This Means for America
With the issue of race increasingly being thrust to the forefront of the national debate by President Donald Trump, the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement, and with the Democratic coalition rapidly becoming reliant on racial minorities, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrant parents, would represent a ground-breaking contrast to past elections.
Welcoming her to the race a day after she first announced her entry, Republican Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens referred to her as “unqualified and out-of-touch,” adding that all Harris had to show for her short stay in the Senate is a “radically liberal voting record.”
Since Kamala’s arrival in the Senate in 2016, she has built a reputation for bringing a prosecutorial style of questioning to hearings with Trump nominees. One example was the combative exchange with former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who told Kamala that her rushed sessions were making him nervous.
Other critics have also called her record into question, with a number pointing to a dramatic increase in the state’s prison population during her years in public service.