Kamala Harris

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Kamala Harris

Postby cmsellers » Thu Sep 28, 2017 6:15 pm

California recently move up its presidential primary to March, likely in an attempt to help native daughter Kamala Harris. Previously, I've been saying she was my third choice, based on an article I read which described her as a tough-on-crime prosecutor who was also a reformist. And I thought: good, while I don't like the "tough on crime" part, it should make it easier for her to reform stuff in an "only Nixon can go to China" way.

However now that the prospect of Kamala Harris being the Democratic nominee is looking increasingly real (especially as my preferred candidate seems to have no interest in running), I decided to look into her in detail. And increasingly, the more I read about her, the less I like her. Which to be fair, has been the case of almost every prospective candidate to some degree, but I started out liking her better than Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand and now like both of them much more than Harris.

My biggest concern is that as far as I can tell, I'm seeing a lot of old-school "tough on crime" and minimal "reformist" in her record. She started a program when she was DA of San Francisco to rehabilitate first time drug offenders, but whereas I see rehabilitation as a goal in almost all cases and the Drug War as something that needs to end, the very nature of this program suggests she doesn't share those views. I don't see anything that rises to Martha Coakely-level malfeasance, but I see a lot of worrying things, including that she:

  • Tried to cover up cases involving a compromised lab tech (as DA of SF).
  • Fought to defend California's "right" to overcrowd its prisons. She claimed it was her job, but AGs are allowed to refused to defend laws they believe on unconstitutional and often do.
  • Refused to take a position on criminal sentencing reform.
  • Fought the release of a man ruled "factually innocent" on a technicality. (Though unlike Coakley she later reversed herself on this.)
  • Defended numerous convictions obtained by prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Tried to prosecute the CEO of Backpage.com against law and precedent.
  • Is a strong supporter of civil asset forfeiture.
I find it less than reassuring that as both DA of SF and AG of CA, she was excoriated by judges for defending prosecutorial misconduct.

I'm also concerned that she apparently got her start in politics through nepotism/sleeping with a married man. While I'm less upset about this than I was about Hillary using her marriage to the president to treat the Senate as an entry-level position, it still bothers me both from the nepotism angle and the "it's OK as a woman to get ahead through sex" angle.

Moreover, Wendy Davis marrying into money was the major line of attack I heard against her in her campaign for Texas governor. If that was an effective line of attack, imagine how effective "Kamala Harris got her start by sleeping with a married man" would be. Like the "Pocahontas" attacks against Elizabeth Warren, you may or may not think this is fair, but it seems like the sort of thing that's going to play well in Peoria.

And in the vein of "electoral liabilities," Kamala Harris is from California. When I was growing up, conventional wisdom was that a Democrat had to be from the South to win. Obama proved that wrong, but highlighted something else I think is important: Carter and Clinton were southerners at a time the South was full of swing states, and Obama was a Midwesterner at a time the Midwest was full of swing states (arguably it still is). Gore was a Southerner just when the South was at its reddest (the Upland South began running away to the GOP, while Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas were still ruby red), while Dukakis and Kerry were from New England, a region with exactly five potentially competitive electoral votes. (I'm not sure what to do with Clinton, who's from New York but still lost Pennsylvania, but Clinton was in many ways a weird candidate.) It seems to me like while the conventional wisdom was wrong, it was on to something: you need to be from a region with a lot of swing states to win as a Democrat.

Moreover, looking at her electoral map, in both the primary and runoff—where she was running against another Democrat—she did worst in the San Joaquim Valley , which is not just a conservative part of the state but the poor conservative part of the state. It looks to me like, as with Hillary Clinton, Harris's coalition is not optimally configured to win the Electoral College.

Now, Harris is half black, and I can envision a scenario where an "Obama effect" brings Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida back to the Democratic fold, which would alone be enough to win the White House. Between that and Trump's war on establishment Republicans, I could also see her picking up some of North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and South Carolina, roughly in that order of likelihood.

However I can also imagine the reverse scenario, one where she runs up the margins in California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington State, and Massachusetts, while failing to carry a single state Trump carried and perhaps losing Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, and Colorado as well, leading to a bigger EC/popular vote split in 2020. (I'm absolutely certain that barring another 9/11, Trump will not win the popular vote in 2020; incumbent presidents don't win the popular vote with underwater approval ratings.) Beyond giving Trump a second turn, this would cement views on the Electoral College as a partisan issue.

Now to be fair, there is one thing I really like about Kamala Harris: unlike most "tough on crime" types, she's genuinely tough on white collar crime. But that doesn't mean she's a reformer; it just means she's tough on crime across the board.

I'm not yet at a point where I'd definitely vote for a third party candidate if Harris were the nominee, but she's definitely much lower on my list of choices for the Democratic nominee than she was yesterday, for reasons of both policy and politics.
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