Thinking Citizen Blog — Kamala Harris (Part III): Childhood, Early Career
Thinking Citizen Blog — Sunday is Political Process, Campaign Strategy, and Candidate Selection Day
Today’s Topic — Kamala Harris (Part Three): Childhood, Early Career
Two weeks ago, a post on her Tamil mother, “the most important person in my life.” Last week, one on her Jamaican father (largely absent from her life, but still a big part of her identity as a black woman). One takeaway from both: she has very strong women on both sides of the family. Today, a few notes on her childhood and early career. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
FROM KINDERGARTEN THROUGH LAW SCHOOL
1. Born in Oakland, California, she was bused as a child from a heavily black neighborhood in Berkeley to a more prosperous white one that went from 95% white to 40% black. She attended both an African American church and a Hindu temple.
2. At age 12 moved to Montreal where she attended a french-speaking primary school and then graduated from an English-speaking public high school there in 1981. She then went to DC to attend a historically black college, Howard University from which she graduated in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics.
3. While at law school at the University of California, Hastings she was President of the Black Law Students Association. She graduated in 1989.
NB: Above is her childhood home in Berkeley.
EARLY CAREER (1991–2003) — Deputy District Attorney, Chief of the Career Criminals Division
1. First job: deputy district attorney, Alameda County, California (1991–4).
2. “In 1994, California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (above) who was dating Harris (30 years his junior), appointed Harris to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later to the California Medical Assistance Commission…Harris’s connection to Brown was noted in media reportage as part of a pattern of Californian political leaders appointing “friends and loyal political soldiers” to lucrative positions on the commissions.” (Wikipedia, see first link below).
3. 1998: appointed assistant district attorney of San Francisco. She became chief of the Career Criminals Division where she had supervisory authority over five other attorneys. After a demotion, she later explained her departure as motivated by the ineptitude of the department evidenced by its serious crime conviction rate of 53% versus a state average of 83%.
NB: In 2000, she joined the office of city attorney Louise Renne, where she was in charge of the Family and Children’s Services Division. In 2002 she launched her campaign for San Francisco District Attorney. She won 56% to 43%. The first person of color to hold the office. The theme of the campaign was let’s get tough on crime. And she did.
SAN FRANCISCO DISTRICT ATTORNEY (2004–2011)
1. When she entered office the felony conviction rate was 50%, by 2009 the rate was 74%.
2. She ran unopposed in 2017 and won 98% of the vote.
3. She consistently and strongly opposed the death penalty.
CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL (2011–2017)
1. 2012: she won the Democratic Primary with 33.6% of the vote. Backed by both state senators (Feinstein and Boxer) and Nancy Pelosi, she won the general election by 46% to 45%. She won re-election in 2014 by a margin of 57% to 42%
2. While she had previously opposed the death penalty, she told voters she would enforce it while in office. And indeed in 2014, she appealed a judge’s decision that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
3. In general, her supporters have painted her years as Attorney General as ones focused on reform while her detractors have claimed that she was part of the “tough on crime” crowd. Evidence is mixed. Clearly, she was playing a balancing act.
NB: In 2014 she married Douglas Emhoff, lawyer specializing in entertainment litigation, with two children — a son, Cole, and a daughter, Ella. My assumption is that they are named after Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald respectively. Just a guess. Checked it out. Yup. Cool. Just for fun check out the story of the first time she met her Jewish mother-in-law. Second link below.
NEXT TIME: The Senate Years and the Democratic Presidential Primary of 2020
Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to political process or campaign strategy or 2020 candidate selection or anything else for that matter.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day or change their thinking. Or to consolidate in your own memory something worth remembering that might otherwise be lost. Or to clarify or deepen your own understanding of something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.