Kamala Harris brings different tone as California attorney general (2024)

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Kamala Harris took the oath of office as California’s first female and first minority attorney general Monday. Many Democratic Party leaders regard her as a rising star who could someday run for governor - or even for higher office. She's also someone who brings a different sensibility to the state's top law enforcement job.

In her inauguration speech, Kamala Harris sought to make clear that she’s been on the front lines of fighting crime.

“I have prosecuted sad*stic criminals who have committed the most heinous, unspeakable acts against other people," she said. "I have spent hours poring over autopsy photographs."

During her remarks in the courtyard of the California Museum for Women, History and the Arts in Sacramento, the former San Francisco district attorney promised to vigorously prosecute violent criminals as the state’s new attorney general.

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But she was most emphatic about helping criminals stop committing crimes and filling up overcrowded and expensive prisons. More than any of her predecessors, Harris wants to provide more drug rehabilitation, education and job training to people leaving lockups.

“We have accepted a fundamental misdiagnosis of the problem," she said. "We treat crime as a monolith with a one size fits all solution instead of recognizing that our approach in the overwhelming majority of non-violent offenders is failing badly.”

Harris said she’d like to start with non-violent women offenders, and to use a program she pioneered in San Francisco.

“We must demand that our correctional system do less collecting and more correcting of prisoners.”

Finding money during the budget crisis and convincing elected officials skittish about looking soft on criminals may be her biggest challenges.

During her speech, Harris also repeated her campaign promises to vigorously go after environmental polluters, mortgage fraud and online scams.

While law enforcement groups opposed her election, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rauckaucus, a staunch Republican, said she is someone he can work with.

“I’ve known her as a district in San Francisco and she’s been somebody easy to get along with, easy to work with and I expect that to continue. Now, we don’t agree on all of the issues.”

The death penalty is a major difference between Harris and many in her profession.

But Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of Walnut Grove echoed the idea that Harris plays well with others. When he was insurance commissioner, he asked her to help with fraud issues in San Francisco.

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“She said 'let’s go after it.' Completely new task – it had never been done by that office before," Garamendi said. She is "easy to work with, driven to do what is right.”

Garamendi added what many in the party believe of the prosecutor who President Obama calls a close personal friend and who’ll reportedly soon grace the pages of the woman’s fashion glossy Harper’s Bazaar.

“She is certainly a star and she is certainly rising.”

Harris’s inauguration attracted a sizable crowd that included many African-Americans. Her father was a Stanford University economics professor from Jamaica, her mother a cancer researcher from India.

In her first speech as attorney general, Harris called herself the daughter of Brown v. Board of Education – the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation. She said she’d model herself after the man who headed the court at the time – and who once served as both attorney general and governor of California – Earl Warren.

“Chief Justice Warren put it this way: 'Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for,'" Harris said as she laughed.

"So to my fellow Californian, I say in the coming four years, we are going to do whatever it takes and catch hell if necessary.”

As California grapples with its most severe budget crisis in history, people may hail Kamala Harris as a hero if she truly can reduce the state’s record incarceration rate and save money.

Kamala Harris brings different tone as California attorney general (2024)
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