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Profile: Kamala Harris, The US Vice President-Elect

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Kamala Harris

Kamala Devi Harris (born October 20, 1964) is an American politician, attorney and the vice president-elect of the United States. A member of the Democratic Party, she will assume office on January 20, 2021, alongside President-elect (and former Vice President) Joe Biden, having defeated incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the 2020 presidential election. Harris has served as the junior United States senator from California since 2017.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

She defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to become the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States Senate. As a senator, she has advocated for healthcare reform, federal descheduling of cannabis, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the DREAM Act, a ban on assault weapons, and progressive tax reform. She gained a national profile for her pointed questioning of Trump administration officials during Senate hearings, including Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

Harris ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and attracted national attention before ending her campaign on December 3, 2019.] She was announced as former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 election on August 11, 2020. On November 7, 2020, the race was called in favor of the Biden-Harris ticket. She will be the second vice president of significant non-European ancestry, following Charles Curtis. She will also be the first African American, the first Asian American, and the first female vice president in U.S. history.

Early life and education (1964–1990)

Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a biologist whose work on the progesterone receptor gene stimulated work in breast cancer research, had arrived in the U.S. from Tamil Nadu in India in 1958 as a 19-year-old graduate student in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley; Gopalan received her PhD in 1964. Her father, Donald J. Harris, is a Stanford University professor emeritus of economics, who arrived in the U.S. from British Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study at UC Berkeley, receiving a PhD in economics in 1966.

Along with her younger sister, Maya, Harris lived in Berkeley, California, briefly on Milvia Street in central Berkeley, then a duplex on Bancroft Way in West Berkeley, an area often called “the flatlands” with a significant Black population.

When Harris began kindergarten, she was bused as part of Berkeley’s comprehensive desegregation program to Thousand Oaks Elementary School, a public school in a more prosperous neighborhood in northern Berkeley which previously had been 95 percent white, and after the desegregation plan went into effect became 40 percent Black.

A neighbor regularly took the Harris girls to an African American church in Oakland where they sang in the children’s choir. Their mother introduced them to Hindu mythology and took them to a nearby Hindu temple, where she occasionally sang.

As children, she and her sister visited their mother’s family in Madras (now Chennai) several times. She says she has been strongly influenced by her maternal grandfather P. V. Gopalan, a retired Indian civil servant whose progressive views on democracy and women’s rights impressed her. Harris has remained in touch with her Indian aunts and uncles throughout her adult life. Harris has also visited her father’s family in Jamaica.

Her parents divorced when she was seven. She has said that when she and her sister visited their father in Palo Alto on weekends, other children in the neighborhood were not allowed to play with them because they were black. When she was twelve, Harris and her sister moved with their mother to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where Shyamala had accepted a research and teaching position at the McGill University-affiliated Jewish General Hospital. Harris attended a French-speaking primary school, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, and then Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec, graduating in 1981.

After high school, Harris attended Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. While at Howard, she interned as a mail room clerk for California senator Alan Cranston, chaired the economics society, led the debate team and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Harris graduated from Howard in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics.

Harris then returned to California to attend law school at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law through its Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP). While at UC Hastings, she served as president of its chapter of the Black Law Students Association. She graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1989 and was admitted to the California Bar in June 1990.

Early career (1990–2004)

In 1990, Harris was hired as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, where she was noted as being “an able prosecutor on the way up”. In 1994, California Assembly speaker Willie Brown, who was dating Harris at the time, appointed her to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later to the California Medical Assistance Commission.Harris took a six-month leave of absence in 1994 from her duties as prosecutor, then afterwards resumed as prosecutor during the years she sat on the boards. Harris’s connection to Brown was noted in media reportage as part of a pattern of Californian political leaders appointing “friends and loyal political soldiers” to lucrative positions on the commissions. Harris has defended her work.

In February 1998, San Francisco district attorney Terence Hallinan recruited Harris as an assistant district attorney. There, she became the chief of the Career Criminal Division, supervising five other attorneys, where she prosecuted homicide, burglary, robbery, and sexual assault cases – particularly three-strikes cases. In 2000, Harris reportedly clashed with Hallinan’s assistant, Darrell Salomon, over Proposition 21 (“Prop 21”wink, which would have granted prosecutors the option of trying juvenile defendants in Superior Court rather than juvenile courts. Harris campaigned against the measure and Salomon opposed directing media inquiries about Prop 21 to Harris and reassigned her, a de facto demotion. Harris filed a complaint against Salomon and quit.

In August 2000, Harris took a new job at San Francisco City Hall, working for city attorney Louise Renne.Harris ran the Family and Children’s Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases. Renne endorsed Harris during her D.A. campaign.

In 2002, Harris prepared to run for District Attorney of San Francisco against Hallinan (the incumbent) and Bill Fazio.[48] Harris was the least-known of the three candidates, but persuaded the Central Committee to withhold its endorsement from Hallinan.Harris and Hallinan advanced to the general election runoff with 33 and 37 percent of the vote, respectively.

In the runoff, Harris pledged never to seek the death penalty and to prosecute three-strike offenders only in cases of violent felonies. Harris ran a “forceful” campaign, assisted by former mayor Willie Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, writer and cartoonist Aaron McGruder, and comedians Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock.Harris differentiated herself from Hallinan by attacking his performance.] She argued that she left his office because it was technologically inept, emphasizing his 52 percent conviction rate for serious crimes despite an 83 percent average conviction rate statewide. Harris charged that his office was not doing enough to stem the city’s gun violence, particularly in poor neighborhoods like Bayview and the Tenderloin, and attacked his willingness to accept plea bargains in cases of domestic violence. Harris won with 56 percent of the vote, becoming the first person of color elected as district attorney of San Francisco.

Personal life, Husband, Net Worth

Harris married attorney Douglas Emhoff, who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP’s Los Angeles office, on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. Harris is a stepmother to Emhoff’s two children from his previous marriage to Kerstin Emhoff. As of August 2019, Harris and her husband had an estimated net worth of $5.8 million. She is Baptist, member of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, a congregation of the American Baptist Churches USA.

Harris’s sister, Maya Harris, is a lawyer and MSNBC political analyst; her brother-in-law, Tony West, is general counsel of Uber and a former United States Department of Justice senior official. Her niece, Meena Harris, is the founder of the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign and former head of strategy and leadership at Uber.


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