Newsletter: Kamala Harris makes it onto the ticket

Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris had been considered a top contender for VP since she dropped out of the presidential race in December.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Aug. 12, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The weeks of frenzied guesswork, oppo research dumps and speculative think pieces have finally come to an end, as all things must.

On Tuesday, Joe Biden named his onetime rival Kamala Harris as his running mate, making her the first woman of color to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket. The California junior senator had been considered a top contender for VP since she dropped out of the presidential race last December.

We live in historic times, and the selection of any of the women on Biden’s shortlist would have resulted in various history-making firsts. But the list is particularly long with Harris. She is, among other things, the first person of Indian descent, the first Black woman, the first Asian American woman and the first HBCU grad (Howard University, class of 1986) to appear on a major party ticket.


As politics reporter Melanie Mason explained in her story, Harris’ statewide experience as California attorney general and almost four years in the U.S. Senate positioned her as among the most conventionally qualified of the half-dozen or so women who were under consideration. (South L.A.’s own Rep. Karen Bass was an unlikely member of the final contenders club.)

[Read the story: “Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s pick for vice president” in the Los Angeles Times]

As Melanie puts it, Harris is “a safe pick — broadly popular in the Democratic Party and well acquainted with the rigors of a national campaign.” But, she continues, the pick is not without risk, particularly in this fraught political moment. Harris faces lingering distrust from the party’s more progressive faction, and “her record as a prosecutor has at times been a political millstone, particularly as attitudes on law enforcement and mass incarceration have dramatically shifted to the left.”

The California of it all

California has not launched a candidate onto a national ticket since Ronald Reagan, which is an awfully long political drought for the nation’s most populous state. (Harris, 55, was in high school when the actor-turned-politician won his first term in the White House.) And considering that the current occupant of the Oval Office has all but declared war on the Golden State, having a Californian situated a heartbeat away from the presidency would be quite a change of pace.

The matter of succession — and a potentially open Senate seat — is no small thing. If the Biden-Harris ticket emerges victorious, Gov. Gavin Newsom will be faced with the politically perilous prospect of choosing her replacement. Yes, that’s a big if, and yes, we are now getting way ahead of ourselves in talking about the particulars of anything on the other side of Nov. 3.... But what is politics, if not a game of big ifs and even bigger speculation?

Anyway, as Sacramento reporter Phil Willon explains in a thoughtful story, the path ahead could be a bit of a no-win zone for the governor, with the risk of “upsetting some of the most powerful forces within the Democratic Party no matter what he decides.” A wrong move could also have ramifications for Newsom’s legacy and presumed White House ambitions.


[Read the story: “With Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP pick, Newsom has a chance to appoint history-making senator” in the Los Angeles Times]

Phil talked to Democratic insiders and strategists about who might be in Newsom’s top tier of replacement picks. The wide-ranging list includes everyone from Reps. Adam Schiff, Karen Bass, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, along with the mayors of Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Long Beach. In his story, Phil explains how different choices might help Newsom reach back to his political roots in the Bay Area or shore up support in Southern California, along with myriad other concerns.

And what of Harris’ personal state geography? The self-described “proud daughter of Oakland” has deep ties to several California cities, and the Berkeley/Oakland battle to claim hometown ownership of the vice presidential candidate has already begun. For the record, Harris was born at an Oakland hospital, largely raised in Berkeley and forged her nascent political career in San Francisco. (To better understand San Francisco’s political culture and its ability to produce an outsize number of the state’s most powerful leaders, I highly recommend reading this 2015 story by my colleague Mark Z. Barabak.)

Despite her Northern California roots, Harris now resides in Southern California. Well, inasmuch as any top-tier national politician lives anywhere beyond green rooms, airports and the Beltway, but her actual house is in the tony Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. She isn’t widely associated with the city as a resident, although numerous people, including uber-producer Brian Grazer, have spotted her at the Brentwood Country Mart.

Here’s how reactions to her nomination have played out in the Bay Area and Southern California.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


With a backlog of coronavirus test results now flowing into a state database, California reported 13,149 new cases on Monday. Additional older results are expected to increase daily totals throughout the week. “The issue with the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system has been addressed, and the system is now performing as expected,” the California Department of Public Health said in a media statement Monday. “The entire backlog has been completely eliminated, and new cases attributed to the backlog will be reported over the next few days.” Los Angeles Times

L.A. school board approves deal on remote learning; critics say it falls short on teaching. With families anxious about the quality of online learning, the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that will restore structure to the academic schedule while also allowing for an online school day that is shorter than the traditional one. The plan leaves some parents and advocates wanting more teaching hours and others wanting fewer mandatory screen-time hours for their children — a reflection of the difficulties of distance learning and widespread parent angst over the start of the school year next week at home, online. Los Angeles Times

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Mayor Eric Garcetti’s top homelessness advisor is resigning. Deputy Mayor Christina Miller has been Garcetti’s point person on the subject since she was appointed in December 2018. She was the first person to hold the title of deputy mayor for homeless initiatives. Los Angeles Times

The political battle between Garcetti and the police union escalated this week, with union leaders bucking the mayor’s plans to crack down on illicit “party houses” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

How Maurice Harris uses flowers for justice. Harris created Bloom & Plume, a floral design studio and cafe in historic Filipinotown, and is now the host of the Quibi talk show “Centerpiece,” where he interviews Black creatives and interprets their personalities into elaborate floral installations. Los Angeles Times

Maurice Harris at his L.A. store Bloom & Plume
Visual artist Maurice Harris was the floral designer for Beyoncé’s new visual album “Black Is King.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Across from City Hall, a protest encampment intends to serve as a “reminder” of the need for police reform. Protest occupations have launched in several U.S. cities this summer, aimed at reclaiming public spaces as demonstrations of how communities without police might work. Results have been mixed. Los Angeles Times

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Gov. Newsom will speak on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, the same evening that former Vice President Biden will formally accept his party’s presidential nomination. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also have a prime-time convention speaking slot. Politico

State Sen. Scott Wiener is being challenged from the left “in an only-in-San Francisco contest” between a progressive incumbent and an even more progressive opponent. Jackie Fielder, the 25-year-old activist seeking to unseat Wiener, has mounted “a surprisingly strong challenge.” San Francisco Chronicle

After weeks of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, a new poll shows that a majority of California voters support sweeping reforms to law enforcement — including measures that would make it easier to prosecute and sue police officers, limit the negotiating power of police unions and shift police funding to social workers and mental health providers. Los Angeles Times



Google is adding California’s earthquake early warning system as part of its Android operating system for mobile phones. The feature means that the state’s earthquake early warnings will be piped into phones using the Android system without the need to download a separate app. Los Angeles Times


A Pew poll finds most Latinos haven’t heard of “Latinx,” and only 3% use the term. Latinx, which emerged online and in academia in the early 2000s, is the most recent attempt to rectify a perceived longstanding problem in Spanish-rooted words that appear in American English: the gendering of nouns that end in “o” (masculine) or “a” (feminine). Los Angeles Times

Some San Gabriel Valley communities could be seriously affected by President Trump’s WeChat ban. Chinese-speaking California communities may lose a vital means of communication if the ban is successful. Pasadena Star-News

The Pac-12 has joined the Big Ten in canceling its fall football season because of COVID-19 concerns. The 10-game Pac-12 season was slated to begin with a tentative opening-weekend face-off between USC and UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Instead, 2020 will become the first calendar year since 1935 without a football game between the crosstown rivals. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Not to Know How to Live” by Jim Moore. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 82. San Diego: partly sunny, 75. San Francisco: partly sunny, 64. San Jose: partly sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 102. Sacramento: sunny, 96. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Michael Robert Peevey:

Moved to San Francisco in 1944, age 6. WWII ended the next year. Lived in a one-bedroom apartment with parents until age 14. Nonetheless, life was great. Played baseball and football in an alley next to our big apartment house. Took streetcars and trolley buses around the city, to Playland at the Beach, downtown to Market Street, to see movies and go shopping. Grammar school was two blocks from home, and high school, Lowell, only a bit longer. Had a car at age 16, a 1950 Ford, two-door. Five friends would pile in Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes starting at the beer garden in Golden Gate Park, then off to parties. Then it was double-dating in my car to our favorite drive-in movie. High school was such fun. Graduated in 1955, then it all ended. Most of my friends went into the Army or Navy because the draft was still around. Ah, youth in San Francisco.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.