Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris is a veteran prosecutor, a skilled political leader and a promising politician who is sure to figure in California's future. Her opponent on the November ballot, Republican Ron Gold, is a private lawyer who has never held elected office and thus has no record of political achievement. Some endorsements are difficult; this one is not. Harris deserves to be reelected and to continue her work as the state's chief law enforcement officer.
Harris served as district attorney of San Francisco before being elected state attorney general in 2010. Since then her tenure has been mixed. She has failed to step up on some important issues and has had notable accomplishments in other areas. She helped secure significant debt reduction for California homeowners in her battle with banks accused of improperly foreclosing on some properties. She has focused resources on combating human trafficking and recidivism, and has sought to reduce truancy, arguing persuasively that keeping children in school is a way of diverting them from crime. Rather than confining herself to the legal representation of the state and its agencies, she has, at least in some areas, helped guide a larger conversation about criminal justice.
Yet her record is by no means perfect. Harris was slow to join the extremely important discussion of Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment program, which is diverting many low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails and altering post-release supervision systems. Swifter engagement and clearer guidance from the state's top lawyer might have curtailed some of the misinformation that greeted that program. She has, however, entered the fray now.
She is also tactical and sometimes too cautious; consider her reluctance to tackle such thorny questions as marijuana legalization and the implications of California's teacher tenure rules for the quality of education. Both are divisive issues where taking a stand could alienate supporters.
Harris is sometimes accused of excessive partisanship — some say she crafts ballot language on initiatives that favor her side of an argument — and there is no denying her ambition; a run for governor seems likely. But there's nothing wrong with ambition so long as it's constructively channeled, and Harris also has demonstrated that she is capable of putting her professional responsibility over her politics. Recently, her office appealed a Superior Court ruling that found California's death penalty unconstitutional. Although Harris opposes capital punishment, she concluded that she had a responsibility to defend the law (in this case, notably, a popular law).
Many years ago, Ron Gold worked as a deputy attorney general. That experience provides him with some insight and ideas for realigning some of the attorney general's priorities — increasing its emphasis on fighting public corruption, for instance. But though he is a capable lawyer and a thoughtful candidate, his background does not compare with the incumbent's.
Harris has generally performed well in her first term, and shows promise of performing better in her second. She deserves the opportunity to do so.