Kamala Harris, the junior US senator from California, is running for president — and she’s getting out ahead of questions about her prosecutorial past.
Harris kicked off her campaign with a rally in Oakland over the weekend, and on Monday she appeared at a town hall in Iowa hosted by CNN.
At the town hall, in addition to endorsing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “green new deal,” and calling for Medicare for all, she was asked about her record on criminal justice.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2016 where she has positioned herself as a progressive lawmaker, Harris served as California’s attorney general and as district attorney in San Francisco before that. Her past as the “top cop,” where she made decisions that may undercut her progressive credentials, is under scrutiny.
Harris was given a chance to address questions about criminal justice and her prosecutorial record on Monday night.
Audience member Riley Fink, a senior at Drake University, asked about her record, which he characterized as embracing a “tough-on-crime mentality,” citing upholding the death penalty and opposing the release of low-level offenders.
“I’ve been consistent my whole career,” Harris replied. “My career has been based on an understanding, one, that as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected, and that is why I have personally prosecuted violent crime that includes rape, child molestation, and homicide.”
“And I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding, to your point, that it is deeply flawed,” she continued.
Some issues that progressives may wish she had addressed include:
- Despite being personally against the death penalty, and making waves in 2004 for declining to call for the death penalty in a case where a police officer was fatally shot, as attorney general, Harris said she would uphold capital punishment. In 2014, she appealed a judge’s ruling against the death penalty.
- She is also facing criticism for how she handled police-brutality and misconduct cases.
Harris oversaw reforms including:
- “Back on Track” in 2005 as district attorney, which diverted those who were nonviolent first-time offenders — including those facing drug charges — to job training and a high school diploma.
- As attorney general, she implemented a “first-of-its-kind” racial bias training and made criminal justice data, including deaths that occurred while in custody, public with OpenJustice.
- And under Harris, the California Department of Justice became the first statewide agency to use police body cameras, the Sacramento Bee reported.
As a senator, she’s favored criminal justice reforms, including the introduction of legislation on bail reform and signing onto a bill that would remove marijuana from the federal scheduling system, where it is currently listed as a schedule 1 drug along with heroin.
“I will also say that there is so much more work to do,” Harris said, responding to moderator Jake Tapper on Monday night.
“And do I wish I could have done more? Absolutely, I do wish I could have done more.”