Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)

In my head I have a short list of names. They are, I have decided, the best and brightest of the Democratic Party. Not the Democratic party of the 1990s or 2000s, but the Democratic Party of the 2010s and beyond. The names I’ll be keeping an eye on when our presidential field rounds out for our shot at the White House in four years. The names I think should come up more often when someone asks the question nobody seems to be able to answer: “who is the leader of the Democratic Party?”

The day after the election I was speaking with a fellow parent while waiting to get our kids at school. A longtime Democrat and a decade or so older than I am, his response to it all was fairly simple. “Nobody older than me,” he told me, “should have a prominent role in the Democratic Party for the next four years. Let the younger generation take over.”

My list, to use his term, are “the younger generation.” In order to have a future, Democrats have to start looking like the future, and with all respect to Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Chuck Shumer, they aren’t it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to have them on my side. They’re excellent at enunciating some of the goals and ideas of the party. But if the last election proved anything, the future of Democrats is not more 70something white people. (Yeah, Shumer and Warren are 66 and 67 now, but they’d be running in 2020 as septugenarians.)

Instead, the future of the Democratic Party belongs to Senators like Cory Booker, Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayors like Eric Garcetti, and even new-style Democrats like Jason Kander of Missouri, last seen damn near pulling out a Senate race that wasn’t on anyone’s map and starring in one of the best political ads of the last 20 years.

The last name on my list is Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who won a glorified primary to take Barbara Boxer’s old seat in last year’s election. Harris has a uniquely American biography –  the daughter of a Jamaican-American economics professor and an Indian-American immigrant who is now an M.D. specializing in breast cancer treatment, she went to Howard, got her law degree from the UC Berkley Hastings College of Law, passing the bar in 1990 and won election in 2003 to become the District Attorney for the city of San Francisco. In 2010, she beat out a crowded field to win election as California’s Attorney General, in the process becoming the not only the first female Attorney General in state history, but its first African-American and first Asian-American AG as well. She’s been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court Justice, and was reportedly on President Obama’s shortlist to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States in 2014, but ran for (and won) reelection instead.

The following year, after Barbara Boxer announced her retirement, Harris jumped in the race to succeed her.

“I will be a fighter for the next generation on the critical issues facing our country. I will be a fighter for middle class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity,” she continued. “I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”
Her ability to tap her statewide infrastructure for a Senate run is a good lesson for folks who overlook state Attorneys General as a jumping point for higher political office. In North Carolina, Roy Cooper made the leap last year to Governor, and AGs like Bob Ferguson of Washington and Eric Schneiderman of New York have already seen their profiles increase in their state’s pushback on the Trump administration. Before anyone else had entered 2016’s Senate race, Harris had already raised $2.5 million in her first quarter of fundraising. Harris’ strength caused other strong potential candidates like Gavin Newsom to pass up the Senate race and instead focus on 2018’s Gubernatorial election. She ended the campaign a fundraising juggernaut, raising $15.4 million, almost $11 million more than her closest competitor.
Harris had to endure the obligatory backlash and scrutiny that comes with being the frontrunner in a high-profile race, specifically involving her spending on cars and hotels that were a bit ritzier than campaigns are usually willing to shell out for. (These quibbles, of course, seem positively quaint now that we’ve elected someone who lives in a literal golden tower as our president.) Aside from a few weeks of negative press, her election was a fairly smooth ride. Democrats coalesced around her, she got 40% in the free-for-all primary, and crushed Loretta Sanchez in November by 2.5 million votes, winning all but two of California’s counties.
Since taking office, Harris has been a standout in the Senate. It took exactly one day for Mother Jones to include her on their list of “11 Democrats Who Could Defeat President Trump in 2020.” Now, there was a time when I’d caution that she just got to Washington and that there was a pecking order that only transcendent politicians like Barack Obama can overcome. But again, Donald Trump is president. We have to operate under a new set of rules now. And besides, it’s possible Kamala Harris is the Next Barack Obama.
One thing that’s not in question is how Harris has acted since arriving in DC. She spoke at the Women’s March in January, saying

“The fight for civil rights will be fought and won with each generation. Whatever gains we make will not be permanent,” she said. “That’s the nature of it, so let’s not be dispirited.… Let’s just get up, pick ourselves up and get out there and fight. Fight for equality, fight for fairness, fight for justice.”

She’s backed those words up in the Senate, forcefully speaking out against the Trump Muslim Ban, being a leading voice in the Democratic fight against Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, and two days ago she filed her first bill, S. 249 – “A bill to clarify the rights of all persons who are held or detained at a port of entry or at any detention facility overseen by US Customs and Border Protection or US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” Aside from voting for a new minor Trump appointees – Elaine Chao to Transportation and Nikki Haley to the UN – she’s done everything you can (and should) expect a blue-state Democratic Senator to do.

 Harris is definitely a name you should remember. If Democrats win back the White House in 2020, it’s hard to imagine that she won’t either have a role in the new administration, or be the one who wins it. She’s part of the future of the Democratic Party, and the good news is, she’s part of its present as well.
Advertisements