I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about her record as a prosecutor, but German Lopez at Vox has managed to capture it so well I don’t have to. An excerpt:
A close examination of Harris’s record shows it’s filled with contradictions. She pushed for programs that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, but also fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent. She refused to pursue the death penalty against a man who killed a police officer, but also defended California’s death penalty system in court. She implemented training programs to address police officers’ racial biases, but also resisted calls to get her office to investigate certain police shootings.
But what seem like contradictions may reflect a balancing act. Harris’s parents worked on civil rights causes, and she came from a background well aware of the excesses of the criminal justice system — but in office, she had to play the role of a prosecutor and California’s lawyer. She started in an era when “tough on crime” politics were popular across party lines — but she rose to national prominence as criminal justice reform started to take off nationally. She had an eye on higher political office as support for criminal justice reform became de rigueur for Democrats — but she still had to work as California’s top law enforcement official.
Her race and gender likely made this balancing act even tougher. In the US, studies have found that more than 90 percent of elected prosecutors are white and more than 80 percent are male. As a black woman, Harris stood out — inviting scrutiny and skepticism, especially by people who may hold racist stereotypes about how black people view law enforcement or sexist views about whether women are “tough” enough for the job.
Still, the result is the same: As she became more nationally visible, Harris was less known as a progressive prosecutor, as she’d been earlier in her career, and more a reform-lite or even anti-reform attorney general.
If your searching for perfection, then get out of politics, because you’ll never find it there or in any other endeavor similarly populated with humans. You just won’t. She’s got problems. I’ve got problems. You’ve got problems. We’ve all got problems. That’s interesting, but it’s not helpful in figuring out who to support and who to oppose. So don’t focus on that.
Instead, focus on what she has to say now about which past decisions she thinks are mistakes and what she has learned from those mistakes. That more than anything else will tell you something interesting about her potential as a leader. Unlike a lot of people who choose to run, she seems genuinely interested in having that discussion, so it will be worth paying attention to what she says.