Kamala Harris, For Which People? 

The junior senator from California has cemented herself as a presidential contender, but her history of changing her positions to secure new offices has created distrust.

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"I think, truthfully, that is not a debate he wants to do," Tuman said. "The moment he starts doing the nonsense he did last time around, Kamala would put him in his place very quickly."

Principle and Compromise

Kamala Harris was born in Oakland to parents who met as graduate students in UC Berkeley. Her father, Donald Harris, is an economist originally from Jamaica, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a cancer researcher from India. Both were active in the civil rights movement.

In 1969, Harris was bused to Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley as part of the second class to integrate the 95 percent white school. That led to her most-viral but perhaps also most-calculated moment of the campaign so far: During the June debate, she confronted Biden about his past opposition to busing. "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day," she said. "And that little girl was me."

By the next day, her campaign was selling "that little girl was me" T-shirts.

Her parents divorced when she was seven; she and her sister moved to Montreal with their mother when she was 12. She attended high school in Canada, college in Washington, D.C. and returned to California to attend law school at UC Hastings in San Francisco.

Harris started her career in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, where she primarily prosecuted child molestation cases. In 1998, she was named head of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office's career criminal division. Even then, Harris had to contend with questions about her relationship with San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and whether he had a role in her appointment, which a spokesperson for Brown denied at the time.

Brown, a powerful San Francisco politician who had been in the state Assembly for four decades, dated Harris while she was a young prosecutor in Oakland. As Assembly speaker, he appointed her to two state commissions. After term limits were enacted for the Legislature, Brown was elected mayor.

In the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, Harris worked for Hallinan, a former defense attorney who had represented members of the 1960s counterculture before he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1988. As district attorney, Hallinan opposed capital punishment, advocated for decriminalizing prostitution, and supported medical marijuana.

He also sought to root out corruption, and suggested that it was a reason Harris ran against him in 2003 and how she ended up being an unexpectedly good fundraiser. Harris exceeded a $211,000 campaign-spending limit that she had agreed to live within by $91,446, the city's ethics commission found. Her campaign said the error was unintentional and reached a settlement that cost it $34,000 in penalties and corrective measures.

Hallinan had indicted the entire Police Department command staff in a scandal known as "Fajitagate." After three off-duty officers allegedly attacked two men leaving a bar, demanding the bag of fajitas they were carrying, Hallinan alleged a coverup by the department. When he ran for reelection, the sheriff and Police Officers Association endorsed Harris.

Harris criticized Hallinan's record, saying that of 12,000 felony arrests in San Francisco, the district attorney's office had only a 29 percent conviction rate. "We have the lowest conviction rate for violent crime in the state and there is no excuse for that," she said.

Harris won the runoff election with 56 percent of the vote. But early in her tenure, an unpopular stand soured her political relationships with the Police Officers Association and other elected officials. Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed in April 2004, but Harris declined to seek the death penalty for his killer. During Espinoza's funeral, Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for the death penalty and received a standing ovation from the 2,000 officers in attendance. After the service, Feinstein said that if she had known Harris was opposed to the death penalty she wouldn't have endorsed her for DA. Fellow Sen. Barbara Boxer tried to persuade the state attorney general to take the case away from Harris.

But in 2010, both senators endorsed Harris for attorney general. Harris could claim many successes as district attorney, such as improving conviction rates, clearing a backlog of homicide cases and instituting new diversion programs that contributed to a massive reduction in recidivism rates. But during the campaign, Harris' office also was hit with a massive scandal.

A Police Department crime lab technician was found to have stolen and tampered with cocaine evidence. She also had a previous criminal conviction that the DA's office had not disclosed to defense attorneys in cases where she handled evidence and testified. The Police Department halted all narcotics work at the crime lab and more than 1,000 drug cases were eventually dismissed. Judge Anne-Christine Massullo found that Harris' office had systematically withheld evidence of misconduct from defense attorneys. Harris unsuccessfully tried to argue that Massullo was biased in the case because her husband was a defense attorney.

In her first campaign for state attorney general, her Republican opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, ran as tougher on crime than Harris on most issues, but he also was a greater proponent of reforming California's "three strikes" law than Harris. While DA, she had opposed one reform effort in 2004, Proposition 66, which failed at the ballot box.


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