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In her native California, Kamala Harris VP pick brings excitement and doubts

Democratic presidential candidate
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. shake hands after a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted at Texas Southern University in Houston.
(David J. Phillip/Associated Press )

Not long after 1 p.m. Tuesday on the West Coast, Google searches for “Kamala Harris” skyrocketed across the U.S. The searches, in large part, originated from computers in Washington D.C., Delaware and Massachusetts.

But as the rest of the nation began its up-close look at the politician who could make history three times over — if elected alongside Joe Biden, Harris would be the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Indian descent to ever hold the job of vice president — many Californians already had well-solidified views of the 55-year-old senator.

They knew her from the flats in Berkeley, where she grew up, and from San Francisco, where she earned a law degree at UC Hastings College of the Law, which she then used to prosecute crimes in Alameda County and later back in San Francisco. They knew her too in Los Angeles, where she now lives with her husband, an entertainment lawyer, and down in Calexico, on the U.S.-Mexico border, where she toured drug-smuggling tunnels as the state’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017.

On Tuesday, people up and down the Golden State began to foreshadow what their future might look like with a California-born politician in the second-highest job in the land — only the second time in history, following Richard Nixon’s stint as the nation’s 36th vice-president.

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As word began to swirl Tuesday that an announcement was imminent, Aizehi Nomo and her sister, Ivie, sat near a computer searching for information.

“Who’s he going to pick?” Ivie asked, refreshing the computer screen constantly. Moments later, Nomo looked down at her phone and saw a notification. She showed it to her sister and they sat in silence.

“It’s not who we wanted,” said Nomo, of Sherman Oaks, explaining that she and her sister disagreed with some of Harris’ decisions as a prosecutor, as well as her ties with some corporations.

Their top choice was Elizabeth Warren, she said, but a Biden-Harris ticket was better than the alternative of the current White House occupant.

“The lesser of two evils,” she said.

But for Tyree Robinson, 33, of Koreatown, it was exactly the right choice. Harris has a stern, to-the-point energy that he really appreciates.

“She’s from the Bay and she’s Black. She’s smart. She’s educated,” said Robinson, a fashion publicist. “I’m just excited.”

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The pick also pleased many local and state politicos.

L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson, who for years regularly met Harris for lunch at a vegan spot in downtown L.A., has followed her political moves with excitement since she joined the campaign for president last year.

“I always love campaign season, but this time it’s personal and different,” said Wesson, who noted that he’d recently sent “good luck” texts to both Harris and Rep. Karen Bass, who had emerged as another possible Biden running mate.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who dated Harris years ago, penned a piece a few days ago saying that should Biden offer Harris the vice presidency he’d advise her to “politely decline,” saying he thought her skill set would be put to better use as, say, attorney general in a Biden administration.

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But reached on Tuesday, Brown expressed excitement, saying he suspects that many Black voters will be as thrilled by this announcement as they were when Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic party’s pick in 2008. He thinks Black women — a key voting bloc — will be particularly loyal to Harris.

“A sisterhood is going to make it possible,” he said.

For some other Angelenos, the news elicited more subdued responses.

Tony Jolly, 46, who owns Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, said he was hoping that Biden would pick Bass, who he said he trusted would be a fierce advocate for South L.A.

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“We were kind of disappointed,” Jolly said, before adding that he was pleased that Biden had ultimately picked a Black woman.

Biden’s pick earned praise from some immigrants’ rights groups who said picking Harris — whose father emigrated from Jamaica and her mother from India — sent a forceful statement. But other immigrants’ advocates weren’t as enthusiastic.

In a letter to Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra last month, nearly 70 groups urged the three leaders to take concrete action to protect detained immigrants. The letter specifically called out what advocates describe as Harris’ hypocrisy, saying she has positioned herself as a champion for racial equality, but ignored the plight of Black immigrants, said Lisa Knox, immigrant rights’ managing attorney for Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said she had hoped Biden would pick Bass, whom she saw as the most progressive option.

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Still, she said, BLM leaders had had several positive interactions with Harris shortly after the group’s founding. Abdullah also praised the criminal justice data produced by Open Justice, a transparency initiative spearheaded by Harris at the California Department of Justice, as well as Harris’ willingness to prosecute big banks for predatory lending and her strong stance against the death penalty.

But Abdullah criticized what she called Harris’ refusal to authorize independent investigations into police shootings of Black people.

“That’s hugely problematic,” she said.

After Harris was announced as the pick on Tuesday, Abdullah tweeted, “I told y’all from the beginning” that Biden would pick Harris.

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“Somebody owes me a dollar,” she joked, adding her Venmo and CashApp usernames. Within an hour, she had $46.

Times staff writers Dakota Smith and David Zahniser contributed to this report.


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