The common assumption on the Right is that Kamala Harris will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024, either because Joe Biden will turn over the reigns early, or because he will step down after one term. Let's plumb that premise from the perspective of an engaged observer who was Secretary of the Republican Party in San Francisco during Harris' rise.
A brief chronology:
- Harris was born on October 20, 1964, the daughter of Donald Harris, a Jamaican-American professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University, and Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an American biomedical scientist born in India. Sister Maya, an activist Democratic lawyer, is two years younger. In 2014 Harris, who has no children of her own, married entertainment lawyer Doug Emhof who has two from a prior marriage.
- She graduated from Howard University and Hastings Law School (University of California).
- She began her career in the Alameda County district Attorney's office in 1990, moved across the Bay to the San Francisco DA's office in 1998, and resigned under duress in 2000. She ran successfully for DA in 2002 with the support of patron Willie Brown and Senator Diane Feinstein, for California DA against Los Angeles Republican Steve Cooley in 2010, and for a vacant US Senate seat in 2016 before being selected by Joe Biden to be his Vice President candidate in 2020.
A few comments on California politics are in order.
- California is effectively a one party state. Party registration is 46% Democrat, 24% Republican, and 24% "Decline to State". All statewide offices are held by Democrats. State primaries propel the "top two" to the general election regardless of party. All significant decisions are made within the Democratic Party - there is no need to learn the art of compromise with Republicans; the key to success is alignment within the party.
- From the Gold Rush to the rise of Silicon Valley, California politics has been dominated by the San Francisco Bay Area. During the period of Harris' adulthood this has included Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi; state Party Chair John Burton and the "Burton Machine"; and assembly leader and subsequently San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.
- As tends to be the case with long term one party rule, political corruption is rife. In the case of Kamala Harris, she entered politics in the mid-90's by having an affair with state assembly leader Willie Brown who was estranged from his wife and 31 years her senior. Brown gave her two lucrative appointments to state commissions (used in California to reward political allies and term-limited politicians ), and later, as San Francisco mayor, provided major support in her 2002 campaign for San Francisco District Attorney.
- Like in most states the District Attorney's office offers a good platform for ambitious politicians, with many photo ops for fining polluters, tax avoiders, Medicaid providers, for profit colleges, and all varieties of miscreants. Harris' highlight was in pulling California out of nationwide negotiations over mortgage penalties following the 2008 financial crisis - and achieving a $25 billion settlement for California homeowners.
- Top political consultant Ace Smith had the role of guiding San Francisco's two young stars in the 'oughts - Gavin Newsome from mayor to Lieutenant Governor, to Governor; and Kamala Harris from San Francisco District Attorney, to State Attorney General, to the Senate. With Team Biden banning Harris loyalists, Washington may be above the pay grade for Smith and sister Maya who managed Kamala's failed presidential campaign.
Four years is an eternity in national politics, and Harris would face significant obstacles if she has to wait for 2024. There are reasons that Harris dropped out of the presidential race two months before the Iowa caucuses after seeing her suppport peak at 15%, and erode to about 3%. Some can be rectified; others perhaps not:
- The "suburban housewife" voters who were critical to Biden's success may be no more supportive of a woman who began her political career by sleeping with her potential sponsor than they were of Donald Trump.
- While the New York Times' allowed Biden to overtly base his VP selection on race and gender while decrying racism and misogyny, sanity may return to the electorate. Harris comes from a comfortable middle class background in the liberal bastion of Berkeley, California. . Her father's family owned plantations (and perhaps slaves) in Jamaica. This is not the stuff to appeal to Black Lives Matter.
- In her short time in the Senate, Harris had the most liberal voting record in the body with 100% scores from Americans for Democratic Action in 2017 and 2018, and a ranking of "the most politically left" by YouGov in 2019. Left of Elizabeth Warren. Left of Ed Markey. Left of Bernie Sanders. The country doesn't need to return to its "center right" history to have her not fit.
- For those seeking a return to bipartisanship and decorum (an alleged Biden theme) , Harris is the antichrist, reveling in her disrespectful hearing room partisan attacks on Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Neil Gorsuch, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Bret Kavanaugh, and William Barr.
- She may have learned from her first campaign outside of California which was beset by organization, strategy, and fundraising issues.
Harris has some large holes in her resume: no experience with state or federal budgets (likely a major issue in 2024); no coalition building outside of California; no international experience. Biden has given her a chance to broaden her credentials with the immigration crisis. The resignations of Biden's acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after two weeks in office and his "border czar" two months later confirm the wisdom of Harris' efforts to exclude the humanitarian crisis at the border from her responsibility and to delay engagement in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua until the Biden administration can figure out how to get the corrupt leaders of those countries to limit migration while at the same time creating a porous border with overcrowded detention facilities. Defending sanctuary cities in California was easy; this assignment is likely to be a fatal albatross.
And one more "tell" on whether the presumptive "president in waiting" can make the transition from vocal critic to responsible owner of workable solutions - police reform. Who better to oversee the national effort than the former district attorney with the vice president pulpit? But that would take vision and political courage.
bill bowen - 4/22/2021