Harris is one of the most exciting politicians today in the US.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: The growing sense of inevitability about California State Attorney General Kamala Harris being elected to the US Senate, in 2016, for the seat to be vacated by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, has the same kind of inevitability as when Bobby Jindal was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2004, when he won in a landslide, and then in the run-up to his election as Governor of Louisiana, in 2007, which he secured with an outright majority.
The Indian American community has increasingly seen more candidates jump into the fray for national office. But some of them lack the experience to even be elected to their local school board, with little outreach or grassroots work to their credit. Polls have become a vehicle to be ‘recognized’ by their peers nationally, satisfy personal egos, goad along other careers. To win, merely an afterthought.
Not so with Harris, 50, who was always known as a ‘rising star’ in the Democratic Party, and a given that she was destined for even higher office one day, than be confined to as a state Attorney General. The daughter of a Jamaican-origin father – Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris, and Indian-origin mother – Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer specialist who emigrated to the US from Chennai, Harris has established her credentials in no uncertain manner as a strong upholder of justice in her current position, fighting for the rights of immigrants, both legal and illegal, and winning some landmark cases, on both the criminal and civil front, as well as initiating anti-hate crime laws.
In California, the largest state in the US, where one out of every two people are immigrants or has a parent who is an immigrant, the Latinos constitute about 40% of the population. New highly skilled immigrants see it as their mecca. It harbors some of the wealthiest people in the technology arena, as well as the best-known celebrities and film stars. Harris’ invaluable experience on the immigration front and fighting for the rights of diversity and multiculturalism is an absolute necessity on the resume for a potential Senator or Governor of the state.
Recent polls show Harris a firm favorite to represent California in the US Senate in the polls next year, and create history by becoming the first Asian American woman to do so, and only the second African American woman to break the glass ceiling of the ‘White Boys Club’, after Carol Moseley Braun was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, in 1992. There is perhaps also the growing sense that maybe even that role may be just a stepping stone for Harris to accomplish much more.
So, what more could Harris achieve, if one were to take that she wins the Senate seat comfortably, like Jindal did in 2004, winning nonchalantly a seat in Congress from Louisiana with 78% of the vote?
The fact is, Harris has the potential to not only become a strong candidate for Governor of California, but also become a likely candidate for the White House, beginning with the 2024 polls. She would in eight years’ time become an extremely high-profile candidate to be a running mate for a potential Democratic candidate, or be an outright candidate herself to be elected President.
Think of it this way: if comprehensive immigration reforms pass this year, the face of the nation will change dramatically in the next eight years. Latinos would be a lot closer to becoming a majority demographic in the country – though not as legal voters, while the non-White population would continue to grow at a rapid pace, with the advent of more highly skilled Asians and others from around the globe. With potential relaxation of Green Card rules and laws, more skilled immigrant of color are likely to become voters in that time-frame than Latinos, who would take a longer route to citizenship.
Harris’ closest competitor till date for the California Senate race, who has yet to take a decision though, is the former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Latino. The other names being bandied about too are Latinos: Reps. Xavier Becerra and Loretta Sanchez of Southern California. In a recent poll, all the three Latinos were significantly behind Harris, who emerged as a firm, sure favorite.
If and when Harris were to strive for the highest office in the nation, giving some of the toughest fight would be Latino candidates, with perhaps the likes of Rep. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz. Their chances in the 2016 GOP primaries look remote for now. If a GOP candidate like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins in 2016, it would kill the chances of any other candidate to mount a formidable challenge in 2020. Again, on the presumptuous side, once the Republicans are past the choice of Bush or Romney for the 2016 elections, eight years down the road, it surely would be a primaries for a Latino to lose.
On the Democrats side, apart from Hillary Clinton, there is a dearth of high-profile, viable candidates who have captured the imagination of the nation. Elizabeth Warren, who has already endorsed Harris, polls far behind Clinton, to be considered inconsequential, at least for now. If Clinton wins next year, the next viable challenge for a Democrat would be in the 2024 polls. And let’s face it: eight years down the road, a White woman or male candidate would not make for as exciting a candidate as an exceptional and proven politician and lawmaker who comes from a minority background, like Harris.
A vastly experienced lawmaker, with a mix of African and Asian roots, married to a white attorney, Douglas Emhoff, Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, has proved to be a friend of the Latino community, which would take away the advantage of some of the Latino challengers down the road. She would be a hard combination to beat, by any yardstick, for any candidate, of either party, in another eight years’ time. Those eight years would also give Harris ample time to prepare herself in the Senate as a front-runner in the Democratic circles.
Of course, all this would be smoke in the air, if she were to lose the Senate race. But it sure doesn’t look like that going by the growing support she has received. A spate of good news has ensured that Harris would remain the most likely candidate to replace Boxer, with challengers facing the prospect of a rout, if they were to find the courage and money from somewhere to mount a challenge, in the first place.
With the news that the White House has now named Harris as the de facto ambassador to spread President Barack Obama’s message of his executive powers to regulate immigration reforms, especially for the illegal immigrants, it is not just a high endorsement for her from Obama himself – whom she fervently supported in 2008, but also an opportunity to spread the message of necessary immigration reforms amongst the Latino community. To let them, as well as the rest of the Latinos nationwide to know that she supports them to stay on in the country and become a part of the mainstream community in the years to come. To let Latinos know that she doesn’t support the Secure Communities program, which enlists the support of the local law enforcement in deportations, a measure supported by the GOP in California.
Harris has also been getting endorsements by key local politicians, like Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr., and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (who once dated her). She has already bagged the support of US Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is no doubt the most senior, brightest and experienced Indian American politician (or American politician as he would prefer to be termed). But his far right conservative convictions are not the mantra for success on the presidential level.
Harris, with her liberal, pan US outlook, has the all the ingredients that made Jindal a success, and then some more. She is best positioned today to take that one ultimate step in the future: to become the first Indian American President of the United States.
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)