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The Hindu Explains: From Kamala Harris to MGNREGA funding

Who is Kamala Harris, the Democratic hopeful?

February 02, 2019 06:26 pm | Updated February 04, 2019 05:32 pm IST

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris

Kamala Devi Harris is a 54-year-old American senator from California, of Indian and African descent, and candidate for President of the United States in 2020. Ms. Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 21) and launched her campaign in Oakland, California, a week ago. She is the second African-American woman (and the first Indian-American) in the Senate and first Indian and African (Jamaican) woman to have been California’s Attorney-General. Ms. Harris, when asked about her firsts, often quotes her mother as saying, “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.”

Where did she grow up?

Ms. Harris was born in Oakland, California, to two Ph.D students at the University of California, Berkeley — Shyamala Gopalan from Chennai, who was studying nutrition and endocrinology and eventually became a breast cancer researcher, and Donald Harris from Jamaica, who was studying economics and went on to become a professor at Stanford. The two met during the civil rights movement and would take Kamala and her sister Maya on marches. They divorced when Harris was seven. Harris’s Indian grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, was a diplomat with the Government of India and a former freedom fighter and her grandmother was an activist for birth control in India. “She was the purest form of the Harris women…we’re all diluted versions of my grandmother,” Ms. Harris told Vogue last year. “My mother, grandparents, aunts and uncle instilled in us the pride in our South Asian roots,” Ms. Harris writes in her memoir The Truths We Hold , released this January, adding, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters…and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud, black women.” Ms. Harris attended a prominent black college, Howard University, and is a member of the country’s largest black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Where does she stand?

In 2004, Ms. Harris became San Francisco’s District Attorney, and in 2011, California’s Attorney-General. Ms. Harris’s contradictory stances as a public prosecutor have drawn criticism from many on the left. She has been praised for her efforts to reduce recidivism through education and training, introducing racial bias training for police officers and for not backing California’s Proposition 8 (a ban on same sex marriage). She has been criticised for her hardline positions on crime. Most notably, while Ms. Harris is personally against the death penalty — in 2004 she did not seek the death penalty for a man who had killed a police officer — she defended the death penalty’s presence on the statute book in California in 2014, when she was Attorney-General.

What is her platform?

Ms. Harris’s campaign slogan is ‘Kamala Harris, for the people,’ the words she first said as a public prosecutor, introducing herself in court. Ms. Harris has said she is an advocate of Medicare for All (her proposal to get rid of private health insurance was controversial and her campaign staff later presented a softer position on this) and will provide the largest middle-class tax cut in history. She also spoke out against big banks and corporations, alluded to the unfairness of tax giveaways for the rich, spoke of uniting Americans and making education a fundamental right at her campaign launch.

What is in store?

It is hard to tell at the moment how Kamala Ms. Harris will fare in the 2020 race. Harris has to first win the Democratic nomination — no mean feat as the field is diverse and crowded and new candidates continue to declare their interest (Cory Booker, an African-American Senator from New Jersey, declared on Friday that he would run). A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted on January 25-27, before Mr. Booker announced his candidacy, ranked Ms. Harris as the third favourite candidate of Democratic voters, below former Vice-President Joe Biden and Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders.

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