The XX Factor

Kamala Harris: Trailblazer in Law and Politics

Noreen, your observations about Kamala Harris, the new attorney general of California, are on point. While she may not want to dwell on her role as the state’s first female and first African-American/Indian-American A.G., there’s no denying it’s a notable achievement. The campaign ad you pointed out portrayed her as tough on crime, but her signature mantra is ” Smart on Crime ,” a sort of holistic penal philosophy that seeks to address the root causes of crime in order to reduce crime overall. She even wrote a book of the same name.

As I noted in this recent story about her , Harris had already distinguished herself as San Francisco district attorney with her innovative approaches to reducing prison overcrowding and recidivism, among other things. Her election means these policies will likely be applied statewide. She also opposes the death penalty – though she says she will uphold it as A.G. - and the Three Strikes law. Her opponent derided her positions, but her novel crime-fighting methods have gained political currency for being thoughtful and pragmatic, and are being modeled by D.A.s in other parts of the country, particularly those in communities with large black, Latino, or other minority populations.

In fact, Harris is among a group of popular black D.A.s –.some of whom consider her their role model – who are making headlines for transforming the way people are prosecuted and punished, and perhaps more importantly, for addressing racial disparities in the legal system blamed for the disproportionate number of people of color in prison.

As for the Obama comparison, eh, that’s sort of cliché. It’s applied almost every time a smart, youngish, black or mixed-race political candidate appears on the scene. Let’s just say Kamala Harris is worth watching in her own right.

Photograph of Kamala Harris by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.