Republicans preparing to deal with a potentially rebuilt Democratic Party in 2020 ought to take solace in at least one of the names bandied about as an up-and-coming leader. The Guardian named Kamala Harris as someone to watch for 2017, referencing media hype about California’s newest U.S. senator and the chances she could become the nation’s first female president. White House speculation started before she was even sworn in.
On paper, this is understandable. California’s Democratic leadership is setting itself up to defy the feds on issues ranging from illegal immigration to gun control to climate change. As I wrote for the Spectator last week, Gov. Jerry Brown and top legislators are competing to see who can sound more like segregation-era Alabama Gov. George Wallace in their promises to resist federal meddling. California Democratic lawmakers have even hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as outside counsel to prepare to battle the incoming Trump administration on a variety of legal matters.
Who better to lead the elected opposition against Trump and to build a base for a presidential run than an attractive former state attorney general (President Barack Obama said she was the nation’s “best-looking” AG) and darling of the Bay Area political establishment? She even has a great pedigree, for those interested in such things. The Los Angeles Times noted that she’s the first Indian-American senator, in addition to being California’s first black senator. Two for one.
The most over-the-top fawning came from Politico. “California’s newest U.S. senator, Kamala Harris, faces extraordinarily high expectations as she takes her oath of office,” wrote Carla Marinucci, noting the accolades she’s received from the Hill, New York Times, Mother Jones, and Washington Post. Marinucci quoted flamboyant former San Francisco mayor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown as the voice of reason, warning that Harris shouldn’t be “vandalized by all these recommendations and all these comments.”
The article at least mentioned that Harris “once dated” Brown. But there seems to be more to it than that. A 1994 Los Angeles Times article explained: “Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, continuing his rush to hand out patronage jobs while he retains his powerful post, has given high-paying appointments to his former law associate and a former Alameda County prosecutor who is Brown’s frequent companion.” That former prosecutor is Harris, who is 30 years Brown’s junior.
In other words, her star-studded rise in California politics wasn’t formed in some harsh partisan battleground, but in the cloistered world of Bay Area Democratic back-scratching politics, where connections count more than policy prowess or sharp debating skills. Her oratory at times sounds like a banal reading of progressive talking points, such as her 2012 Democratic National Convention speech denouncing GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
That’s not surprising, of course, but her record as California attorney general veered far enough outside the bounds of typical partisanship that she even got slapped down by the liberal Sacramento Bee for her handling of statewide ballot initiatives. We all know better than to believe the civics textbook nonsense that Justice Department officials primarily promote justice. But at some level, our system depends on at least a modicum of fairness. No one should ever expect that from the lockstep leftist Harris.
In California’s boisterous system of direct democracy, the attorney general is responsible for drafting the title and summary of initiatives placed before voters. Typically, voters only read those short descriptions, so the way they are written largely determines their fate. Harris is a close ally of the public-employee unions and seemed to use her title-and-summary power to destroy ballot initiatives that would have reformed the state’s overburdened pension system.
Wrote the Bee, regarding one of those efforts: “Her office’s official description of the two measures read like talking points taken straight from a public employee union boss’ campaign handbook. Harris claimed the measures would reduce retirement income for current employees, which is not true. She also claimed that future government employees would lose survivor and death benefits, also not true.” In California’s Democratic hothouse, such critiques made no difference; there was no one to hold her accountable for this behavior. And the reform measure withered away.
After the Center for Medical Progress released eye-opening undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the killing of unborn babies, and their body parts, Harris launched an investigation not into the questionable practices of the abortion provider, but of the group that produced the videos. She didn’t seem concerned about what her efforts would mean for the long tradition of undercover investigative journalism.
As I reported for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Harris used her office to demand that a conservative nonprofit start providing its donor lists to her office, in exchange for being allowed to continue operating in the state. She “assured charities that her office’s demand for the names and addresses of people who make donations are in good hands, given that state policy is to keep such sensitive information private.” Yet a lawsuit by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation referred to 1,400 instances where such information may have been released publicly. What conservative group would trust a Harris Justice Department with this info?
On her Senate campaign website, Harris vowed, vaguely, to “stand up to the climate change deniers.” We get a sense of the kind of Orwellian behavior she embraced based on this Washington Times news report: “A coalition of 17 state attorneys general, including California Attorney General Kamala Harris, have joined forces to pursue climate change skeptics. At least four prosecutors reportedly have launched investigations into Exxon Mobil for climate change ‘fraud.’” California Democrats subsequently pushed a bill that would have allowed AGs to prosecute such deniers under the state’s unfair business practices law.
As these few examples show, the willingness to use state power to crush dissent is a hallmark of the Harris approach. In typical progressive fashion, Harris is far more interested in taking on evil corporations — note her approach to the mortgage crisis — than to hold accountable the state’s unwieldy government agencies or to protect the citizenry’s constitutional rights. That’s standard operating procedure for progressive politicians, but a recent news event reveals her mindset.
“Never let it be said that Kamala Harris gives up after being told her totally bogus legal crusade is totally bogus,” wrote Techdirt in December. “She’s now filed brand new charges against the execs who run Backpage.com — despite having the very same lawsuit thrown out a few weeks ago.… Harris (and some other state Attorneys General) have been crusading against the classified website Backpage, because some of its users use it to post illegal prostitution ads.… [T]he proper thing to do in those situations is to use that information to go after those actually breaking the law. Instead, Harris and others have whined about their desire to put Backpage execs in jail instead.”
She is constantly being smacked down by the courts, so she’s not even very good at this.
Given her embarrassing record as state AG and lack of rhetorical prowess, what’s the reason for the “extraordinarily high expectations” that have greeted Harris now that she’s been a U.S. senator for all of two days? It’s not like there’s a dearth of pabulum-speaking progressive hacks. Republicans should be encouraged if this is the best hitter so far on the Democrats’ farm team.
Image by Richard Thornton