By Eduardo Stanley
With the Aug. 11 selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate, Joe Biden, the Democratic 2020 Presidential candidate, obviously hopes to attract more minority votes, particularly Blacks.
Harris, California’s junior U.S. senator, is the daughter of immigrants raised in Oakland, the traditional Black city of Northern California.
Democrats will need lots of votes to win this election. With open maneuvers by Republicans to deter voting by minorities—usually associated with Democratic sympathies—every vote will be crucial.
So Harris’s selection could play an important role. Expect her to campaign strongly in minority-populated cities and areas, bringing a message of unity, job creation, increasing social programs’ budgets and restoring programs cancelled by the current administration.
Expect also to hear a message of bringing back some—not all—rules to control oil exploration and other dismissed pollution control decisions. Although Biden doesn’t agree with the so-called Green New Deal, sponsored by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, environmentalists would like to see most of the Obama-era limitations on polluters restored.
But Harris isn’t a totally unifying figure. Her past political decisions are under close scrutiny.
Before becoming a U.S. senator, Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney (2004–2011) and then the California attorney general.
Critics of Harris remind us that she pushed for state legislation under which parents whose children were found to be habitually truant in elementary school could be prosecuted, despite concerns that the legislation could negatively affect low-income communities. And they also remind us that Harris appealed a ruling in 2014 by an Orange County judge that established the death penalty to be unconstitutional.
Harris also opposed a state bill that would require her office to investigate shootings by police officers. Moreover, Harris was accused of wrongdoing on several legal processes that resulted in tough convictions in several cases with dubious situations. In short, most critics insist Harris was a “law-and-order” prosecutor whose actions resulted in unfair convictions.
Can Harris and the Democrats counter these arguments? Most likely, they are working on that, particularly if they expect her presence to bring in minority votes.
Without doubt, she is an energetic, charismatic woman with a million-dollar smile. And she has some good ideas and a strong background of supporting unions.
She advocated recently for “hazard pay” for grocery employees, arguing that while top grocery chains rake in billions during this pandemic, these frontline workers cannot choose to work from home like the corporate executives of these companies.
Harris has a record of supporting state legislation aiming to improve working conditions and the environment, including much-needed access to clean water in unincorporated cities of California, something that resonates in the Central Valley.
Harris has participated in farmworker marches and attended the 2016 UFW Convention. This organization endorsed her for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination.
La Opinion, of Los Angeles, the main daily newspaper in Spanish on the West Coast, endorsed her as a vice presidential candidate before Biden decided to do so.
This is not a small thing considering that the Latino front isn’t a unified one. Some Latino organizations expressed frustration with Democrats arguing that the party remembers them only during elections.
Latinos don’t forget that when Obama had a friendly Congress (2008–2010) he didn’t do anything for immigration reform and later deported about three million Mexicans. Even though Obama established DACA in support of immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, many Latinos see that action as a too-late decision that added another confusing layer to the already complicated immigration situation in the country.
The challenge for Harris is to confront these arguments and convince minorities that this time will be different and that the Democratic formula will do better for them than the Trump administration.
With the country in disarray, the permanent chaos at the White House and rampant racism coming from the nation’s top political leaders, Harris shouldn’t have much of a problem talking to voters and asking them to vote and vote early. And to vote Democratic so the country can go back to a political normality, even during the pandemic.
Eduardo Stanley is editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at email@example.com.