Opinion: Kamala Harris, an early Barack Obama backer, begins her ascent

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San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, one of Barack Obama’s earliest California backers, announced today that she is running for California attorney general in 2010.

She would replace Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the former Oakland mayor and California governor, who is expected to run for governor in 2010.


There had been speculation that after slogging around Iowa knocking on doors for Obama, Harris, 44, might be headed to Washington in the new administration.

But the Democratic prosecutor long had focused on running for attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer and a post that can serve as a steppingstone to the governor’s office.

She would be the state’s first female attorney general and the first, in decades, who started out as a courtroom prosecutor.

Harris would follow in a long line of California attorneys general who personally oppose capital punishment. But like the others, including Brown, she has promised to enforce the law.

Democrats who win the post generally receive significant support from trial attorneys, in part because deputies file civil suits that help pave the way for private litigation.

Harris was elected district attorney in December 2003, becoming the first woman to win the post and the first African American in California to become a district attorney. She was reelected in 2007.


In a statement, Harris said she had spent her ‘entire professional life in the trenches as a courtroom prosecutor,’ starting in the Alameda County district attorney’s office.

‘I will fight for all Californians -- from distressed homeowners to families whose neighborhoods are under siege,’ Harris said, adding that she will detail in coming months how the state could better fight street gangs, ‘go after sub-prime lenders and others responsible for the financial crisis’ and overhaul the prison system.

‘We have to shut the revolving door that simply recycles criminals in and out of our neighborhoods,’ Harris said.

Harris was born in Oakland and graduated from Howard University and Hastings College of Law, the University of California law school in San Francisco.

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, is a breast cancer researcher. Her sister, Maya Harris, is a vice president at the Ford Foundation. Her brother-in-law, D. Anthony West, an attorney at the San Francisco law firm of Morrison & Foerster, is among the Californians who could receive an appointment in the Obama administration.

--Dan Morain

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