Kamala D. Harris was elected in December 2003 as the first woman District Attorney in San Francisco’s history, and as the first African American and Asian American woman in California to hold the office. She was overwhelmingly reelected to a second term in November 2007. Harris is the author of Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make us Safer.
As San Francisco’s District Attorney, Harris has used her nearly 20 years of prosecutorial experience to focus intensively on fighting violent crime. She increased felony conviction rates, expanded services to victims of crime and their families, created new prosecution divisions focused on child assault, public integrity and environmental crimes, and launched innovative initiatives to prevent re-offending.
Harris, who served as California Co-Chair of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was born in Oakland, California and is a graduate of Howard University and U.C. Hastings College of the Law. Kamala Harris is a celebrated rising star in the Democratic Party and is now running to become the first female and first African-American and first Asian American Attorney General in California history. If elected, Kamala will also be the first South Asian Attorney General in the nation. She was also featured on Oprah as one of “America’s Most Powerful Women” and The New York Times named her one of the 17 women most likely to become the first female president of the United States. Most recently, Kamala was recognized by Lifetime Television among other prominent and accomplished women such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her commitment to justice. You can watch Lifetime’s “Every Woman Counts” Salute to Kamala Harris here:I was honored to speak with Kamala Harris while she was in New York City last week. See our interview below.
Kamala: Congratulations on such a wonderful magazine!
Asiance: Thank you for being featured!
Kamala: Of course!
Asiance: I know you don’t have a typical day but give us some insight into your daily routine.
Kamala: I wake up and I go to the gym around 6am. I get on the treadmill, walk really fast on an incline and switch the stations between MTV Music videos, CNN and local news, MSNBC. Then go back home, shower, change, have a couple cups of tea and then I head to the office. I can tell you that my day is never the day I have on a piece of paper the night before. Which means the upside of that, is it is never boring but the day usually includes a combination of staff meetings, talking about cases, talking about policy or legislation that we’re working on. I often do media interviews around cases we’re prosecuting. At lunch time, I’ll take a lunch that’s related to the campaign and politics, because I don’t do that type of work around the office. Then in the evening, it’s usually community events and fundraisers for the campaign. Then the next day we get started all over again.
Asiance: What would you say are your top 3 issues of your platform in your bid for Attorney General of California?
Kamala: One of the top issues is what we need to do around to increase public safety and diminished public resources in the context of the criminal justice system.
Another area is the issue of mortgage fraud, financial fraud, crimes that should not be going without consequence. And most of the victims that you are seeing in California are African Americans and immigrants.
One of the areas of big focus for me, is internet crimes against children.
Asiance: The New York Times named you among the seventeen most likely women to become the first female President of the United States. How did you feel about that? And do you see that as a goal for yourself?
Kamala: I was very humbled and honored by that statement. But it also makes me very nervous because one of the areas of my South Asian upbringing, which is pervasive in my life, is that I’m extremely superstitious! (laughs) I was raised to focus on the present and do that well and if you do that well, good things will come. My motivations for doing the work I do, is based on actually getting what’s in front of me done and hopefully doing that well. Things will come as they’re supposed to.
Asiance: How do you incorporate your ethnicity (South Asian) in your daily life? Anything from your mom?
Kamala: My blood (laughs). It’s with me always. It’s a part of who I am. I don’t know how to separate that from everything else.
Asiance: What other women do you admire in American politics?
Kamala: There are a lot, but unfortunately not as many as there should be based on the number of women who are capable of this work. That being said, the top of my list would be Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Lee. I’m fortunate to have all them in the neighborhood.
Asiance: What do you think has been the hardest decision you had to make in your current job as DA of San Francisco?
Kamala: I’m faced with difficult decisions every day. It’s the reality that I’ve come to accept of being a career prosecutor. Every day it is about making a decision that invariably makes a huge impact on the people who are concerned. In particular, victims of crime.
Asiance: What do you think has been the biggest accomplishment or proudest moment for you as DA of San Francisco?
Kamala: There’s been a lot of hard decisions. I wouldn’t say that one more is harder than the other. They all are because I take the responsibility of my work very seriously. Every time I make a decision, it has an impact on someone else’s life. Each decision is hard for that reason in terms of the seriousness of it and with the seriousness, I then take that decision.
Asiance: What do you think of Bobby Jindal, another prominent South Asian in politics?
Kamala: I met Bobby Jindal for the first time at the State Department dinner that the President and First Lady hosted for the Prime Minister of India.
Our politics are very different and I’ll just leave it at that….(laughs)
Asiance: Kamala will also be the first South Asian Attorney General in the nation. Any other South Asians politicians coming up the political ranks that you want to mention? Reshma Saujani, running for Congress?
Kamala: She has been very supportive of my campaign and my work. Definitely, her candidacy is very exciting. There is a fellow by the name of Ash Kalra in the Bay Area. He’s on San Jose’s City Council Board. He’s a real rising star, very smart, and also a lawyer by training.
There are a lot coming up the ranks and I think it’s very exciting.
Asiance: What about Kal Penn?
Kamala: Oh Kal Penn is wonderful! We campaigned together for the President and he’s been very supportive of me and I of him.
Asiance: Do you think he’ll do more in politics?
Kamala: I think he should! I think he is extremely bright, very hard working. I think his perspective on public policy is the kind of perspective that we need.
Asiance: How do you think Barack is doing? Are you pleased? Would you change anything?
Kamala: I think he is doing a phenomenal job, in particular, in the context of the world and the government as how he found it.
I think he does his work, he has the courage in his convictions and he does the work with an incredible amount of grace.
Asiance: I like your style..Who do you wear? What designers? Whose style do you like in the media?
Kamala: I wear different designers. I’ll tell you that I normally wear 3 ½ inch heels but when I’m not my favorite footwear are my Chuck Taylors, my converse. I think Michelle Obama has an incredible sense of style and in particular, I think she is a great role model for all women of how you can balance strength and femininity. In many ways, she is that person but including her style sense.
Asiance: What advice would you give to women who want to get into politics?
Kamala: Run, run, run! Meaning run for office, run for office, run for office. I mentor a lot of women who are interested in running for politics. For example, I’m an advisor to an organization that is out of San Francisco called EMERGE and I have been a supporter and have actually been supported by Emily’s list. One of the things, when I do training, what I talk to women about is know your power. Own your power. The other thing is to know that if you have an opinion or an idea, or a plan for how things can be done better, use your voice. Know that if you are thinking it, it’s important. This is another piece of advice; often you may be the only one, literally and figuratively sitting at a big table of others, but know that you are never alone, there is a whole group of us, who are in the background, standing and cheering you on!
Asiance: Would you change anything in American politics? If so, what would that be?
Kamala: I think American politics, by design, overall is a very good system. We have got to have more of a commitment to see issues through a practical instead of ideological lens. To that end work on issues that are clearly. I believe most issues are non-partisan and should be approached with that spirit. If we are really going to have an impact and create the solutions that people want.
Asiance: What does Kamala mean? Does it mean anything in Tamil?
Kamala: It means “lotus flower”, which is a prevalent symbol in all Asian cultures. It has a lot of meaning. The idea is that this flower sits on top of the water. Its roots are in the mud, meaning that you can kind of sit there but you must always be connected with what is real.
The other metaphor that it represents, is that a loaded flower, sits on the water, but it never gets wet. The point being that you can and should be in the mist of it all, mist of chaos and not let it impact you but be there to do what you can.
That was what my mother thought when she named me.
Asiance: How do you balance your career and a personal life?
Kamala: It is always a struggle. Sometimes I’m on the winning end and sometimes I’m on the losing end. You have to consciously work at it because the demands of life and one’s profession, whatever you do, if you enjoy it and you care about it can be unending. You have to also appreciate family and friendship because it is so important. They require attention. I don’t mean they demand attention. It’s your responsibility and the right thing to do to spend time with your family and friends. Check in with them and see how they are, those who love you without judgment. They’re your support mechanism.
Asiance: Thank you so much! We’ll be watching. Good luck I know you’ll do great!
Kamala: Thank you so much and good luck with the magazine. If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know.
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