Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris Is Reimagining Herself as a Progressive Prosecutor

Harris is pitching a carefully constructed narrative that seems to be at odds with her record in many ways.

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For most presidential candidates, the path to the White House is a decades-long process of rising through the political ranks, building alliances and raising money. A few candidates might wake up and say, "Heck, I'm going to run for the presidency," but most serious contenders are driven by lifelong ambition. Our president is an exception, but that only reminds us of the rule.

Kamala Harris clearly has had lofty ambitions for years as she moved from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general to our state's junior U.S. senator. She no longer can be dismissed as a longshot after her successful Democratic debate showing and rising numbers in the polls. As Joe Biden looks like yesterday's news, Harris now is among those candidates with a genuine shot for the nomination.

This should be a troubling prospect not only for conservatives, but for the progressive wing of Harris' party. It should also disturb those whose main goal is to replace the current White House occupant. Donald Trump might have an otherworldly sense of reality (it is whatever he says it is), but Harris is pitching a carefully constructed narrative that seems to be at odds with the record.

Forget about all her predictable liberal positions. Every Democratic candidate is going to promise a bevy of lefty policies, ranging from "free" health care to loosened immigration restrictions. To gauge the character of each candidate, voters must look at how each one behaved in prior office. They should look askance at last-minute conversions.

Biden, for instance, supported a war in Iraq that was popular at the time, but now is viewed as a disaster. He authored a crime bill that ramped up sentences. Both measures were products of the time, but they show Biden to be a go-along, get-along guy. Likewise, Harris spent her career as a prosecutor, and there's no indication she was anything but an enthusiastic backer of the law-and-order status quo.

That's a crucial issue, because criminal-justice reform now is a core concern of the Democratic base. It's not only Democrats. President Trump last year signed a justice-reform bill. Many Republicans agree the nation's tough-on-crime policies, created when fear of crime was a top concern, have gone too far. The pendulum has swung back dramatically in the last couple of years.

Harris now depicts herself as a "progressive prosecutor," who has made decisions based mainly on her sense of justice. But as professor Lara Bazelon opined in the New York Times earlier this year, "Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reform…, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent." She "fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors."

I still recall that video of Harris laughing as she recounts telling her coworkers to "look really mean" when they threatened to send a poor mother to jail because of her kids' truancy. Harris now strikes the right progressive stances, but during her career she acted like a tried-and-true drug warrior. There's no evidence that she in any way resisted the zeitgeist.

"By 2005, Harris was also turning against the city's decade-old Drug Court, which allowed some people arrested on nonviolent possession and small-time sales charges to go to a city-run addiction treatment program…," wrote Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown. Harris now says she would decriminalize prostitution, but Brown notes, "As a prosecutor she ramped up stings in immigrant communities…spread misinformation about human trafficking, ignored sexual misconduct by police, and aggressively targeted websites where sex workers advertised."

Harris defended the death penalty in court (although she personally opposes it), resisted releasing a man the Innocence Project found not to have been guilty, backedexpanded asset forfeiture (whereby police confiscate property even if its owner wasn't convicted of any crime), and seemingly served as the cat's paw for police unions. Perhaps some conservatives will be cheered by this record, but that's not the point. It's that her past actions bear no resemblance to her new persona.

My theory is she served as a prosecutor in an era when law-and-order policies were popular. She wasn't going to cross some of the most powerful lobbies in the state. This approach would inoculate her from the main "soft on crime" jab that conservatives hurl against liberals, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the presidency. The criminal-justice paradigm shifted quickly and unexpectedly, so now she's left reimagining most of her political career.

Harris' current claims about her career speak volumes about her nature. She's received criticism from progressives who are serious about justice reform, but it's not keeping her from the prize. That's the most depressing lesson. A candidate can totally rewrite her record even though that record is easy to examine—and pay no apparent price for it in the polls.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. The criminal-justice paradigm shifted quickly and unexpectedly, so now she’s left reimagining most of her political career.

    All will be forgiven if it looks like she can oust that awful man who pardoned Alice Marie Johnson.

  2. “Harris defended the death penalty in court (although she personally opposes it),”

    Not to defend Harris as a candidate, but can we decide whether it is an executive branch officeholder’s job to faithfully execute and defend the laws of their government whether they personally like those or laws or not and stick with that position? Rather than criticizing them for defending or not defending based on whether we like the law or not.

    1. Yeah, you have a point… but in cases of life and death – like literally the death penalty – I would expect anyone to take a moral stand.

      People resign in the federal executive when they disagree with the direction the president is taking – I’m not sure why “I was just the elected attorney general” should make anyone give her a pass.

    2. “It’s well within the authority vested in me as the elected attorney general to use the discretion of my office to make decisions about how we will use our resources and what issue we will weigh in on or not”

      Harris, explaining why she wouldn’t defend California’s marriage law.

      https://abc7.com/archive/9042429/

      1. (In fairness, the marriage law was literal genocide. /sarc)

    3. Precisely. She’s looking better and better. She faithfully carries out her bosses’ orders. Is that not what we want when we the people become her boss?

      OBL, time to rise and shine and chime in!

  3. Hey, she managed to win a senate seat on that terrible record.

    The fact that she’s claiming to be for legalizing prostitution after making her big push toward the senate on the back of unconstitutional prosecutions of people incidentally or tangentially related to prostitution under the umbrella of battling “human trafficking” should tell you everything you need to know about the progressive wing of the DNC.

    1. No, she won that Senate seat because it’s California and no one to the right of Mao had a chance in hell of defeating the annointed one.

      1. But she won the primary. That’s where the real contest is in places where one party dominates.
        I suspect that in the field of Democrat candidates, she was the sensible moderate of the bunch (relatively speaking).

        1. California’s primaries are a “nonpartisan” jumble which often results in two Dems squaring off against each other in the general.

          I don’t know if that happened with her, but she may have won a general election battle against Che Guevara for all I know.

          1. It did. She went up against another Dem in the general.

  4. So a democrat is lying about her past, about her future intentions, and about today. How is this in any way news?

    1. The Republicans are hardly innocent either. The political system naturally attracts charlatans.

      1. “”The political system naturally attracts charlatans.””

        And authoritarians. This is why if you present me with various choices of government, I’m going with the one that limits their authority, not expands it.

        1. Totally, preferably a rule of law based republic as opposed to our current mob rule.

      2. There is some difference between Democrats and Republicans.

        Otherwise, Democrats would not be freaking out over Trump being President.

        1. Trump is a former New York liberal (Democrat) who used to be pro choice, he most certainly is not pro 2nd amendment and has exhibited authoritarian proclivities regarding due process. Furthermore, there were many Republicans both prominent and average who were aghast at him winning the nomination.

  5. Heels Up Harris really ought to try reimagining herself as something other than an adultress. Maybe apologize to Mrs. Brown?

    1. The voters have already shown that adultery is not disqualifying from the Presidency.

  6. …resisted releasing a man the Innocence Project found not to have been guilty

    If she gets the nomination and I was Trump, I’d boot Pence and make this guy my running mate.

    1. That’s cute that you think Republican voters care about criminal justice.

      1. Prosecutor Harris and Crime Bill Joe are currently the Democrat’s top contenders.

      2. Yeah, it’s not like the republicans would pass something like The First Step Act.

      3. I don’t think most voters care about criminal justice.

      4. “That’s cute that you think Republican voters care about criminal justice.”

        It is however interesting to note that criminal justice is typically a black american issue and Trump enjoys the highest approval rating among black americans of any republican in modern times. I suspect his actions and stances on criminal justice are part of that.

        Don’t know how that will play out in the election or if it will matter (most black americans live in deep blue urban areas so a few defectors from the Dem reservation won’t make a difference)

        1. But a good number of those blue urban areas are in swing states. So could make the difference in a presidential election.

  7. Harris defended the death penalty in court (although she personally opposes it), resisted releasing a man the Innocence Project found not to have been guilty, backedexpanded asset forfeiture (whereby police confiscate property even if its owner wasn’t convicted of any crime), and seemingly served as the cat’s paw for police unions.

    It seems like Kamala Harris believes in the Rule of Law, so I don’t see what the problem is.

    1. She above – she refused to defend Prop 8 (marriage).

  8. WHAT??? A politician is lying??? That cannot be true!! They never lie to us about anything, right??? Lmao!! Harris has been lying about her record since she became a US Senator. She was pro law and order until he went to Senate and then suddenly she was ultra leftist…

  9. Why so many articles about kamala Harris? This is like the 17th one in two weeks.

    1. They want to be able to say “we tried to warn you” if she wins.

      1. Yeah but if it’s Harris v Trump who will Reason writers prefer? Anybody remember HRC ?)

    2. Because she looks like one of the more plausible, candidates for president at the moment. And she’s awful.

      1. That’s what makes her plausible. It was precisely what made HRC “qualified”.

        1. The parties really need to change how they do primaries. There are too many people who shouldn’t be in positions of power who keep getting nominated.

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  13. Bronn of the Blackwater always comes to mind whenever I see a pic of Kamala Harris.

    “There’s no cure for being a cunt”

  14. Kamala Rouge strikes again!

  15. She’s like HRC- always with the finger into the wind to see which way the wind is blowing.

  16. > A candidate can totally rewrite her record even though that record is easy to examine—and pay no apparent price for it in the polls.

    Maybe, I’d expect Harris to be the front-runner if she had a better record.

  17. Sen. Backpage, pushing for gov’s heavy hand into private lives, has no place, nor does she in elected office.

  18. “Kamala Harris Is Reimagining Herself as a Progressive Prosecutor.”

    If only the rest of us could imagine almost anyone else (not limited to Harris) was running for President.

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