Kamala Harris: California Attorney General

The first time Kamala Devi Harris (B.A. ’86) ran for office, she was elected freshman representative to a student council for liberal arts majors at Howard University. 

She’s come a long way since then. Right now, the multitasking politician and policy influencer juggles being California’s first female, African American-South Asian American attorney general with her quest to become the Golden State’s first Black, female U.S. senator. 

“One of the things I realized—since I was active in student government up until today—is the need for diversity,” Harris said. “We need to have more women in these highest offices where so many decisions that are made impact women.” 

On Nov. 8, Democrats Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez face off in the first-ever U.S. Senate race involving two Californians from the same party. A relatively new California law allows top vote-getters in state primaries—no matter their party affiliation—to run in the general election. 

Early one summer evening, Harris was speaking about those senatorial aspirations, her winning lawsuit against a for-profit college, hopes of lowering college student debt and other concerns. Her day had started at 5:20 a.m. She’d worked out and eaten breakfast, then leaped into a spate of activities. 

There’d been meetings with state lawmakers over anti-human trafficking legislation—her office has prosecuted traffickers—and with California Department of Justice staff members about assorted crime and justice matters. 

At a San Diego funeral, she’d eulogized a police officer shot to death in his patrol car. 

“There is no question in my mind that there should be serious, swift, severe accountability for the person who did that,” said Harris, who was elected California’s chief prosecutor in 2010. 

She knows that policing in America is a fraught topic. 

I reject,” she added, “the false choice that you either are soft on crime or tough on crime. I reject the myth that says Black folks don’t want law enforcement. We don’t want racial profiling, excessive force. But we want law enforcement.” 

Born in Oakland, California, and reared by her mother, a scientist and immigrant from India, Harris said being on Howard’s campus “during those formative years” was central to her development as a Black person.

The Howard Woman is “a role model, leader, inspiration, inspired, intelligent Black woman,” Harris said. 

“The thing that Howard taught me is that you can do any collection of things, and not one thing to the exclusion of the other,” Harris said. “You could be homecoming queen and valedictorian. There are no false choices at Howard.” 

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