Dan Walters

Opinion: Senate competitor may reveal the real Kamala Harris

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles.
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles. AP

It’s always perilous for politicians to tell the truth, as President Barack Obama discovered when he commented on Kamala Harris’ good looks in 2013.

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” Obama told a fundraising event in San Francisco “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

“It’s true! C’mon,” he added, to laughter from the crowd.

Yes it is, but Obama took some heat for violating an unwritten rule of contemporary politics against mentioning a woman’s physical appearance.

That said, what else do we really know about Harris, even though she’s been California’s attorney general for four-plus years and is the odds-on favorite to succeed Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate next year?

Not much.

Harris has been oh-so-careful about polishing her public image, aligning herself only to actions with little or no political risk. For instance, she asked the courts to tell her whether she had to process a homophobic ballot measure, so no matter the outcome, she’s off the political hook.

Harris has also been very reluctant to face unscripted questioning by California reporters.

On one recent occasion, after an appearance in Silicon Valley, reporters tried to ask questions about the Senate but an aide shooed them away like pesky flies.

“No questions right now,” he insisted as Harris walked briskly away. “We have to get moving.”

When Harris has deigned, on rare occasions, to talk to California journalists, she utters nothing beyond politically correct platitudes that reveal little about how she would perform as a senator.

Harris, it would seem, believes she can simply coast into the Senate without saying or doing anything significant. But that could change if she faced a serious rival, particularly another Democrat. And Loretta Sanchez, a Southern California congresswoman for the past two decades, could pose that challenge.

Sanchez is no shrinking violet. Known for her feisty approach to politics, she’s been taking potshots at Harris for a “lack of federal experience” and other supposed shortcomings, and if she runs, one can expect the jousting to continue.

Sanchez has little to lose by making a Senate run. Republicans will probably remain in control of the House indefinitely and she holds no great position in the Democratic hierarchy.

A few other Democratic congressional members are also mulling a race, and having competitors may compel Harris to descend from her self-constructed pedestal and give voters some insight into whether she’s really qualified to be a U.S. senator or is merely the “best-looking attorney general in the country.”

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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