Soapbox

Is Kamala Harris ready for the national stage? Staff misconduct scandal raises doubts

California Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the media after speaking to 10,000 high school students from across Los Angeles County at the annual Girls Build L.A. leadership summit on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles.
California Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the media after speaking to 10,000 high school students from across Los Angeles County at the annual Girls Build L.A. leadership summit on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. TNS

Kamala Harris is a uniquely gifted politician. Watching her connect with voters on the campaign trail or cross-examine an adversary from her post on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes it easy to see why she has become one of the national Democratic Party’s most sought-after surrogates and a much-talked-about 2020 presidential contender.

Some of Harris’ most compelling moments in the Senate have come from the outspoken leadership she has provided in the public debate over workplace sexual misconduct. When allegations of harassment and abuse roiled the political and entertainment sectors last year, Harris was a vocal source of support for the victims.

“To everyone who has come forward with #MeToo, thank you for your courage,” Harris tweeted. “To all survivors, know that you are not alone.”

She was even more emphatic when Democratic Senate colleague Al Franken of Minnesota was accused of multiple examples of offensive and inappropriate behavior.

“Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere,” Harris said, calling for Franken’s resignation. “This story is extremely troubling and the behavior is unacceptable.”

Opinion

When she spoke out against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court earlier this fall, Harris unapologetically stood with Professor Christine Ford, who said Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school.

“Dr. Ford was not going to be suppressed or silenced,” Harris said. “She had the courage to let her voice be heard. Let her be an inspiration to the rest of us.”

Dan Schnur.JPG
Dan Schnur

But when her longtime colleague and advisor Larry Wallace resigned from his position in her Senate office after The Bee reported taxpayers had paid a $400,000 harassment and retaliation settlement, Harris was more circumspect. When asked if she had been aware of the allegations against Wallace, who had worked for her for fourteen years, Harris’ response was fairly terse.

“I did not,” she said. “Nope.”

To her credit, Harris has since expanded her reaction to the controversy, calling it “deeply unsettling and sad” and making it clear that she takes “full responsibility for what happened in (her) office.”

But in the two weeks since Wallace’s resignation, the level of public moral outrage that has characterized Harris’ public proclamations on other #MeToo matters has been noticeably absent.

Harris effusively praised Ford for her willingness to come forward, calling her “a true patriot in fighting for the best of who we are as a country” and complimenting her courage. But Harris has offered no public encouragement to Danielle Hartley, the young woman who filed the complaint against Wallace and who reportedly experienced months of professional retaliation as a result of her decision to come forward.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Harris knew anything about Wallace’s conduct. She has neither defended her former colleague nor questioned the veracity of the allegations against him. But Harris is considering a run for president, and the level of media scrutiny that will be directed toward her if she does decide to run will be like nothing she has experienced as a statewide candidate or elected official.

On the same day Harris was responding to questions about Wallace’s resignation, Senator Elizabeth Warren was the subject of a front-page New York Times story citing criticisms of the way she handled a dispute regarding her ethnic heritage. An editorial in her hometown Boston Globe recommended she not seek the presidency at all. That’s the type of white-hot spotlight that presidential candidates face every day, and Harris’ curt dismissal of questions regarding such a sensitive matter as Wallace’s treatment of Hartley would not be sufficient on a national stage.

Harris asked Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing, “Do you agree that it is possible for men to both be friends with some women and treat other women badly?”

Now would be a good time for her to answer her own question, and to tell us if she will stand with Hartley as emphatically as she did Ford. Before her potential primary opponents start asking questions of their own.

Dan Schnur is the former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He can be contacted at dan.schnur@mindspring.com.
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