In 2010, Kamala Harris was elected as California District Attorney, making her the first African American, first Asian-American and first woman to hold the position. The 51-year-old successfully ran a campaign in 2016 to represent California in Washington, DC in the U.S. Senate by replacing Barabara Boxer. In November, she faced Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Both of them are Democrats.
Harris began her carer as Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County, then became San Francisco District Attorney after winning election in 2003.
After her win, she declared her plans to fight Donald Trump’s immigration proposals and called the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border “absolutely unrealistic.” She called on Democrats to band together to stop Trump’s immigration ideas from coming to fruition.
Here’s a look at Harris’ life and career.
1. Harris Has a Very Diverse Background
Harris was born in Oakland. Her late mother, Shyamala, came to the U.S. from India and her father, Donald, grew up in Jamaica. Shyamala studied science. Donald was a national scholar in Jamaica and studied economics. Harris has a younger sister, Maya, who has also gone into law.
“My parents met at Berkeley,” Harris told Essence. “Mom was a scientist with a Ph.D., and my father was a professor of economics at Stanford. My parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, marching and shouting for justice. We grew up always being told that you have a responsibility to serve.”
Harris has said that Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley and Charles Hamilton Houston inspired her to become a lawyer.
2. Created Back on Track Program to Help First-Time Drug Offenders Outside Jail
While DA of San Francisco, Harris tried to solve the problem of recidivism, or drug offenders going back to prison for one offence shortly after being released from jail. She decided that nonviolent, first-time drug offenders needed help getting back into society, so she created a program called “Back On Track.”
“We give them a choice: they can go through a tough, year-long program that will require them to get educated, stay employed, be responsible parents, drug test, and transition to a crime-free life, or they can go to jail,” she wrote in a 2011 Huffington Post editorial. “My prosecutors tell me that many defendants have heard the stories about the program and choose jail instead; jail’s easier, they say.”
In May 2014, she expanded the program to Los Angeles and in January, she honored the first 53 participants of the program. Part of the program begins while the offender is still in prison.
“Let me tell you why I’m doing this,” Harris said in January, reports the LA Sentinel. “I’m doing this because I absolutely know as a career prosecutor, this is how we will keep communities safer. For so long in our country, we have been offered a false choice about what makes for good criminal justice policy. The false choice suggests that either you’re soft on crime or you’re tough on crime, instead of asking are we smart on crime.”
3. Faced Lab Scandal in San Francisco
In 2010, Harris’ office faced a scandal over the mishandling of evidence at the San Francisco crime lab. Lab technician Deborah Madden took cocaine from the police crime lab and prosecutors were forced to dismiss over 600 pending drug cases because they relied on Madden’s work, reports The San Francisco Chronicle. Also at issue was the fact that Madden was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in 2008, but prosecutors didn’t disclose that to the defense attorneys in cases during which Madden testified. While a judge did not immediately dismiss convictions from cases in which Madden testified, she scolded Harris’ office for not disclosing the information.
The Chronicle also reported that there was also concerns over Ann Marie Gordon, a San Francisco coroner’s office supervising toxicologist who was considered a “perpetrator of fraud” by Washington State court. Around 100 cases were dismissed in Washington when Gordon revealed that she was endorsing tests she didn’t conduct herself.
“As soon as we learned about it, we acted immediately and we disclosed the information in the relevant cases,” Erica Derrydeck, a spokeswoman for Harris, told the Chronicle in May 2010. “We recognize that drunk driving is a serious crime and we are evaluating Ms. Gordon’s role in any cases that we have going forward, so we can present the strongest possible evidence to secure convictions.”
4. Was Considered Top Pick to Replace Eric Holder
After Eric Holder announced that he was stepping down from U.S. Attorney General, Harris’ name was floated about as a possible successor. However, President Barack Obama eventually picked Loretta Lynch.
“I am honored to even be mentioned, but intend to continue my work for the people of California as Attorney General. I am focused on key public safety issues including transnational gangs, truancy and recidivism,” Harris said in a statement in 2014.
Harris instead ran for a second term as California Attorney General. She won, beating Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley by just 50,000 votes, the Los Angeles Times reported.
5. Harris Has Sizable Lead Over Sanchez in Latest Poll
Sanchez and Harris will face off in November in the first ever California Senate election without a Republican on the ballot. Harris has a wide lead over Sanchez, whose biggest hope is to attract Republican voters. According to a new Los Angeles Times poll, Harris is up 47 percent to 22 percent over Sanchez. The only group she doesn’t have a lead in is with Latinos, who support Sanchez 45 percent to 30 percent, according to the poll.
The Republican candidate to earn the most votes during the primary earlier this month was former Republican state party chairman Duf Sundheim. He only received 8 percent of the vote. Harris won the primary with 40 percent, whiel Sanchez came in second with 18 percent.