Why Kamala Harris Took So Long

Suddenly US Senator Kamala Harris has become an advocate for police reform, a subject about which she had little to say while serving as California’s Attorney General or San Francisco’s District Attorney. There is a political reason.

Under our federalist system, public safety is largely a state and local government matter. Accordingly, the more effective time for Ms. Harris to have weighed in on police reform was while serving in state or local office. But advocating for reform at that time would’ve involved risk to her political career. That’s because public safety unions have historically played a powerful role in the electoral success or failure of state and local politicians in California. Now that Ms. Harris is working in a different political environment, it’s to her political advantage to appear aggressive on police reform.

We don’t know whether Ms. Harris is the police reformer she says she is now or the non-reformer she was when serving in state and local office, but we do know such opportunistic behavior is not rare. She litigated against poor students who sought to enforce constitutional rights to education and torpedoed a pension reform initiative that would’ve unleashed money for social services, in both cases pleasing the state’s most powerful special interests at the expense of its most vulnerable residents. Only those who drill past words into actions would know these truths.

In our experience, most elected officials want to do the right thing but extra-charismatic politicians who don’t always walk their talk get more attention, including from donation bundlers who don’t drill down but whose money enhances the power of those politicians. That’s why GFC supports lawmakers who actually serve the general interest. If you raise money for a politician, you should know their record.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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