Kamala Harris, California’s freshman senator and former state attorney general, has been quite the newsmaker in her short five months on Capitol Hill. She’s been dropping f-bombs, told to stop harassing witnesses at hearings, and staking her ground as the most anti-Trump lawmaker in Washington.
Her face has been plastered all over newspaper front pages and TV screens. While she has become the darling of the progressive left, Harris is now among the most loathsome figures for conservatives or anyone who supports President Trump’s agenda. There is now rampant speculation that she’s gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, even though for now she denies it.
But just exactly who is Kamala Harris?
For all the noise she’s making now in Washington, Harris, 52, actually has a relatively low profile in much of her own state. Her political rise has been groomed by the state’s Democratic machine, which is now akin to a monarchical procession in one-party rule California.
Born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris’ upbringing was that of a typical leftist. She was raised in Berkeley and grew up in academic circles of her mother after her parents’ divorce. She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and earned her law degree from Hastings in San Francisco, though she failed her bar exam on the first try.
Harris’ big break in her political career came after dating Willie Brown, a powerful former California Assembly speaker and mayor of San Francisco. She became the District Attorney of San Francisco before running and narrowly winning the race for state attorney general in 2010 in an election that was possibly tainted by voter fraud and wasn’t decided until nearly three weeks later.
After she became the state AG, her eventual ascension was mapped out. She was to become the next senator from California after the retirement of Barbara Boxer. Harris won the 2016 senate race easily, defeating Loretta Sanchez with more than 60 percent of the vote in an all-Democratic contest. Harris’ platform was that of the boilerplate progressive left, championing the climate change agenda, increasing the federal minimum wage, renewing the ban on assault weapons, and providing aid for illegal aliens while shielding them from federal agents.
But after being accused of being too low key and risk averse during much of her political career in California, Harris has adopted a different persona after arriving in Washington. She intentionally dropped an f-bomb at a public event discussing health care, voted against 32 of 38 of President Trump’s nominees, and then last week earned a rebuke from her senate colleagues when she endlessly interrupted both Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during hearings.
All these moves were designed to raise her profile among Democrats, who are bereft of talent to run on a national ticket. Harris presents a younger, sassier, and non-white version of the worn-out models of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
“The dominant trend in Democratic Party politics is fresh, new, and interesting — that’s what people are looking for — not old, steady, and establishment,’’ Wade Randlett, a longtime Democratic fundraiser in Silicon Valley who has known Harris for years, told Politico. “And Kamala is the trifecta on that.’’
Of course, being a progressive favorite may help Harris in the Democratic field, with a race seemingly on to determine who might be the loudest and most obnoxious. But will that play well in middle America?
For now, the Democrats don’t care. They see nothing wrong with backing a political climber who’s thin on accomplishments. They just see another Barack Obama.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at USC, told Politico that Harris faces particular pressure to perform among Democrats because she “is perceived as a part of this new generation of leadership.” As a senator of African-American and Indian-American heritage, “she is a woman of color, a diverse ethnicity,’’ and one with powerful friends like Obama, who enthusiastically endorsed her senate bid.
“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough,” Obama said of Harris during a 2013 fundraiser. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”
Of course, even Obama had to apologize for that remark, the last part.
Follow Samuel Chi on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru.