After the 2016 Presidential Election, Democrats took Hillary Clinton’s loss as motivation to look for and prepare the most fitting candidate for 2020. Rumors have been swirling for years about who could potentially take the spot for Democratic Presidential Nominee, but up until recently, no one had been confirmed. The first Democrat to announce her candidacy was Elizabeth Warren. Other candidates such as former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have also made it official. Thus far, the most controversial candidate has been Sen. Kamala Harris, who announced her plans to run for office during an appearance on Martin Luther King Day.
For Democrats, analyzing every detail of each individual candidate’s voting record and political statements is crucial in months leading up to the 2020 elections. When it comes to Kamala Harris, there’s no doubt that her past is going to come up as an issue.
In 2010, Daniel Larsen was declared innocent by a federal judge after spending 13 years in prison. In 2012, over 90,000 signatures were delivered to Kamala Harris’ office during her time as Attorney General of California calling for his immediate release, being that he was still serving time. Harris’ office claimed that they were appealing the ruling to release Larsen based on a technicality. Democrats and Republicans alike have been pushing for criminal justice reform in recent elections, and keeping an innocent man imprisoned for a crime he did not commit hurts Harris’ credibility both ways.
In 2014, Kamala Harris shocked her Californian supporters with her refusal to agree on the recreational legalization of marijuana. After the success with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Californians were ready to make moves in their state. At the time, Harris’ Republican opponent for attorney general was open about his support. Harris, on the other hand, reportedly laughed off the question of whether or not she agrees with him. “He’s entitled to his opinion,” she said.
While she did publicly defend medical marijuana use, she was criticized for not directly agreeing on an issue that could help reduce the number of arrests and incarcerations for marijuana, pollution in national parks from marijuana growth and the amount of drug cartel violence.
A parole program that would allow more prisoners to be released early was launched in 2014 through the orders of federal judges in California. This order would allow for all non-violent second-strike offenders to be eligible for release after serving half of their prison sentence. Lawyers at Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office argued against this order on the basis that if those prisoners were released, the prison system would lose a large chunk of their labor force. With the recent passing of the First Step Act, which calls for the reduction of prison sentences for certain nonviolent offenders, this does not reflect well on Kamala Harris’ political reputation.
In the last decade, there has been a wave of protests calling for the increase of police monitoring in order to reduce the number of police brutality towards civilians, specifically black people. One of the many proposed solutions has been the implementation of body cameras for officers. In 2015, Kamala Harris similarly publicly voiced her disagreement with this implementation. Instead, she said that she believes in more acknowledgment of the distrust between certain people groups and law enforcement in order to develop a relationship of reciprocal trust where everyone shares the responsibility of building it.
While at first glance, Kamala Harris seems like an excellent fit for the Democrats as a potential president, it’s difficult to imagine her progressing in the elections with such a controversial history on many issues that Democrats feel are crucial to their party. It still seems too early to completely discredit her and count her out of the running, but with how quickly her past has been brought up as a major issue for her campaign, it definitely seems like it won’t be easy for her, or any other candidate with a debatable political record, to advance in the elections and win over the Democrats.
Britny Sanchez is a senior majoring in political science.