Meet the Candidate: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris has made a career of upending conventional political wisdom.
Harris is the biracial daughter of immigrants who met at the University of California, Berkeley, and were active in the civil rights movement. “I was raised by parents who spent full time marching and shouting about this thing called justice and fighting for equality,” she said at a recent forum on poverty in Washington, D.C.
Harris and her younger sister were primarily raised by their mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher who immigrated from India, and Harris often speaks of her influence on the campaign trail. Gopalan and Harris’ father, Jamaican-American economist Donald Harris, divorced when Harris was 7 years old.
Harris was born in Oakland, California but attended high school in Montreal, after her mother was offered a job at McGill University. She attend Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, D.C., and then returned to California to pursue her law degree at the University of California Hastings School of Law in San Francisco.
While it was not a traditional career path for a woman of color, particularly one steeped in the civil rights movement, Harris decided to become a prosecutor. In her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” she recalls how “I had to defend my choice” to her family and friends “as one would a thesis.”
Harris’ election as San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and U.S. senator from California were all groundbreaking — no women of color had held those roles before. Harris is also just the second African-American woman from any state to hold a Senate seat.
But in other ways, Harris has behaved as a conventional politician, skillfully balancing California’s diverse political interests, wooing its deep-pocketed donors and building alliances with powerful Democrats like current Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state House Speaker Willie Brown, both of San Francisco.
Before she’d even come to Washington, D.C., Harris was being touted as a future presidential candidate. An early supporter of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Harris began drawing headlines as the “female Obama” before she’d even won statewide office. In 2013, Obama had to publicly apologize after he called Harris “the best-looking attorney general in the country,” at a fundraiser in San Francisco, a comment some condemned as sexist.
Harris won her Senate seat in 2016 — the same election that ushered Donald Trump into the White House in a shocking upset. And Harris immediately turned her attention to him. “We are making a commitment tonight ... to bring our country together, to fight for who we are and our ideals,” Harris said at her election night victory party. “Do we retreat, or do we fight? I say we fight. And I intend to fight.”
In her two-and-a-half years in the Senate, Harris has drawn national attention for her sharp questioning of Trump administration officials. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions famously said at one hearing that her rapid fire questioning was making him “nervous.”
About Kamala Harris
▪ Current position: U.S. senator from California (2017 to present)
▪ Other elected offices: California Attorney General (2011 to 2016); San Francisco District Attorney (2005 to 2010)
▪ Occupation: Prosecutor
▪ Education: B.A. from Howard University; J.D. from University of California, Hastings College of the Law
▪ Age: 54
▪ Residence: Los Angeles.
▪ Family: Douglas Emhoff, husband; Cole and Ella Emhoff, step-children
▪ Campaign website: kamalaharris.org
▪ Small donors: Raised $4.4 million, 34% of contributions
▪ Big donors: Raised $7.6 million, 58% of contributions
▪ Fun fact: Harris is the first U.S. senator of South Asian descent and the second female African-American senator. Her mother emigrated from India and her father emigrated from Jamaica.
▪ On the issues: Harris’ presidential campaign has unveiled a number of policy proposals in recent months, led by an initiative to raise teacher pay. Under her proposal, the Department of Education would work with state and local institutions to set a base salary goal. She has also proposed new executive actions to more strictly regulate guns and give young undocumented immigrants known and DREAMers a path to citizenship. She has called for beginning impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and supports liberal priorities like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Harris calls herself a “progressive prosecutor” and has introduced bail reform legislation in the Senate. Her record on criminal justice issues in California, however, was far more mixed.
Sources of biographical information: