Kamala Devi Harris, California’s 52-year-old, six-year attorney general, won a seat in the United States Senate in Tuesday’s election, trouncing fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez with 63 percent of the vote. The victory makes Harris the second African-American woman ever elected to the Senate — and the first since Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was defeated after one term in 1999. Harris also becomes the first Indian-American in that position.
Her mother, a physician, the late Shyamala Gopalan Harris immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1960. Her father, Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris, is of Jamaican descent. Harris’s background, as well as her charismatic public presence and liberal policy beliefs, have drawn comparisons to a former one-term Illinois senator who ran for president shortly after his election to the Senate — Barack Obama.
When Harris, who was endorsed by Obama in the California Senate race — after Obama in 2013 had called her “the best-looking attorney general in the country,” a remark for which he quickly apologized — gave her victory speech on Tuesday night, she took a defiant stance against President-elect Donald Trump, particularly on the issue of immigration, which also won her widespread praise.
“Today we are rededicating ourselves to fighting for the best of who we are. And there are a lot of people, as a result of this election, that are feeling dispirited at best,” Harris said in the speech, delivered at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
“Part of what we have to say is that you are not alone, you matter and we’ve got your back.”
Watch an excerpt from Harris’s victory speech in the video below.
After Trump’s defeat of former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton in the November 8 election, Harris is already being touted by political experts as a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2020.
But who is Kamala (pronounced COMMA-la) Harris and what does this possible first woman president stand for?
Harris Is A Native Of Oakland, California, And The Daughter Of Civil Rights Activists
Born in Oakland on October 20, 1964, Harris and her younger sister, Maya, were raised primarily by her mother after their parents divorced when the girls were young. But Kamala — a name that means “lotus flower” in the Sanskrit language — remembers often being taken to civil rights marches and demonstrations by her parents.
“My parents met at Berkeley,” she told NBC News. “Mom was a scientist, and my father was a professor of economics. We grew up always being told that you have a responsibility to serve.”
She graduated from the historically black college Howard University in Washington, D.C., and obtained her law degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in 1989.
She Has Been Called ‘A Female Obama’ Since 2010
Harris was labeled with the comparisons to Obama during her run for California attorney general in 2010, just two years into Obama’s first term as president. At the time, she was the district attorney of San Francisco County. In the race, Harris defeated the more conservative Los Angeles County D.A. Steve Cooley, whose support for the death penalty was seen as a political asset. Harris opposed the death penalty.
In fact, Harris as San Francisco D.A. controversially refused to seek the death penalty in a 2004 case against a gang member accused of killing a city police officer, despite opposition from California Governor Jerry Brown and both of the state’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
She Refused To Enforce California’s Ban On Same-Sex Marriage
After the state passed Proposition 8 in 2008 prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples in California, Harris refused to enforce the ban as the law was being considered by the courts to determine whether or not it was constitutional.
“I declined to defend Proposition 8 because it violates the Constitution,” she said in 2013, before the same-sex marriage ban was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. “The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”
When she joins the Senate on January 3 of 2017, Harris will become one of only three African-American senators, along with Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican, and fellow Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey.
[Featured Image by Kimberly White/Getty Images]