The “upset” for the California state Attorney General’s office is finis compli as San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala Harris, claimed victory over the purported “favorite,” Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley, this week in one of the closest statewide elections in California history.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen had Harris ahead by 71,566 votes as of this past Monday. Harris claimed victory on Tuesday. Cooley, seeing the writing on the wall, conceded last week after prematurely “claiming victory” on election night. This was not just a doofus moment for Cooley…it also put an exclamation point on Harris’ history-making run.
Kamala Harris is now, “officially,” the first African American AND the first woman AND the first Indian American to hold the office of California Attorney General, a position that has the second highest profile of all the statewide offices. It is a very strategic position in carrying out the state’s public safety agenda, but it is also the foremost training ground for leadership. It serves as a primary pathway to the governorship. In the last 30 years in California, there actually have been more attorneys general elected governor than lieutenant governors, so it presents a special opportunity for the right person.
Without getting ahead of ourselves, Kamala is definitely the right person. Now she has an opportunity to demonstrate it. Ms. Harris’ election represents a continuum of a national change agenda in California, despite what the rest of the country did. Her election cannot be taken for granted, but it also must be analyzed in its truest context.
There were a lot of reasons Kamala Harris won; a strong Democratic Party turnout to hold Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat; a strong party push to make the once youngest Governor become the state’s oldest Governor in returning Jerry Brown to the Governorship. But the two foremost reasons were a visionary approach to public safety on the part of Harris, and a great disdain for her opponent.
As San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala Harris did some extremely creative things, not just lock people up. California is the nation’s largest jailer with over 165,000 people locked up in state prisons. The number is really closer to 180,000 when you include persons awaiting trial. The state’s prisons are overcrowded. So overcrowded that the United States Supreme Court actually began deliberations on a federal court appeal to release 40,000 inmates to ease California’s prison overcrowding problem. California is the crown jewel of the nation’s prison industrial complex, building 23 new prisons since 1985 while building only one new state university.
Clearly, California made a commitment to the prison industrial complex by tracking juveniles and basing their prison development and future population projections on 4th grade public education test scores to forecast dropout rates and thus, future prisoners. California hit “gold” for the second time in 100 years, but this time it was human capital that could be paid seven cents an hour to compete with cheap foreign labor in the production of goods and products here in the United States.
Kamala Harris’ theme that we had to be “smart on crime” looked at the truancy rates and dropout rates and held parents responsible for their child’s school attendance, in an effort to reverse dropout rates and divert youth away from the criminal justice system. It’s looking at crime with “fresh eyes” that got the people’s attention around Kamala candidacy.
The other major factor was the public’s disdain for Steve Cooley. Cooley was the favorite because he was expected to win Southern California, including Los Angeles County. Kamala Harris beat Steve Cooley in his own backyard and she whipped him badly. It just wasn’t the “double dipping” issue and the overprosecuting that came out in the campaign. It was a personality issue with voters across the board. They just didn’t like Steve Cooley. Even Republicans didn’t like him and that played to Kamala’s favor. It’s not the last time you will see voter backlash in Los Angeles in the upcoming year. It just showed that voters pay more attention than so-called “favorites” think. Cooley found out though.
Harris’ number one issue will be the improper foreclosures that are taking place throughout the state, but particularly in Los Angeles. Some folks in these banks are engaging in improper behavior in taking people’s homes and need to be criminally charged for circumventing default procedures.
Jail overcrowding will be handled by the court, but her smart approach to diverting young people out of the system will help.
Congratulations to Ms. Harris on making history. Congratulations to the voters for being smart on who should handle crime in California.