Who is Kamala Harris? And why is she important for the future of the USA?

Biden Harris supporter

Donald Trump’s reign as US President has reached an acrimonious end, and Joe Biden has officially taken office to become the 46th leader of the world’s largest economic power. But, who is his Vice President? And why is she so significant in the history of the country? Business Leader investigates.

Who is Kamala Harris?

Biden’s choice for Vice President is US Senator for California – Kamala Harris. The 56-year-old was born and raised in Oakland and has served in the US government since 2004. For seven years she was the District Attorney of San Francisco – and in 2011 she became the Attorney General of California. She held the role until 2017, when she became a senator.

In her early life, Harris was a part of the bused programme in Northern California where children were taken to-and-from school with children was different races and backgrounds.

Both herself and her sisters were introduced to both Christianity and Hinduism at a young age and attended both church and temple. Throughout her young life, she was taken to her family’s ancestral home of Chennai by her mother many times. She also visited other family members from Jamaica throughout her youth.

After her parents divorced when Harris was seven years old, she spent the weekends with her father in Pala Alto, California, where she experienced racial segregation.

At 12, she moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and attended a French-speaking school. She remained in the Montreal school system until graduating high school in 1981.

Harris joined Howard University in 1982 to study political science and economics. While at the university she interned as a mailroom clerk for California senator Alan Cranston – her first steps into politics. She graduated in 1986.

Following graduation, she moved back to California, where she attended law school at Hastings College and the University of California. While at the university she was President of the Black Law Students Association. She graduated in 1989 and was admitted to the State Bar a year later.

That year she was hired as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County.

Four years later, she was appointed to the California Medica Assistance Commission and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

From 1994 to 1998, she was caught up in the ‘friends and loyal political soldiers’ controversy, where top positions were handed out to a select few – of which Harris was one – as she was dating Speaker of the California Assembly, Willie Brown. She has defended her positions and work during this time on several occasions.

In 1998, she became San Francisco’s Assistant District Attorney, and later the Chief of the Career Criminal Division. It was in this role she made her name as a prosecutor in homicide, armed robbery and sexual assault cases.

Two years later, Harris quit following a well-publicised spat with Darrell Salomon – the assistant to San Francisco’s District Attorney Terence Hallinan – over ‘Proposition 21’ where youths were to be tried in supreme court rather than juvenile court. Harris opposed this but lost. Before quitting, Harris was given a demotion over the proposition.

Following this, Harris became a San Francisco City Attorney, and ran the region’s Family and Children’s Services Division.

Two year’s later she stood for San Francisco District Attorney against her former rival, Salomon – and won. Following a very personal campaign, she received 56% of the public vote and became the first person of colour to take the role in the city.

In 2007, she ran unopposed to take a second term. A year later, she announced plans to run for Attorney General for the State of California in the upcoming 2010 elections.

She won the three-person Democratic primary to run for election, and was backed by prominent politicians including House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

She faced Republican Steve Cooley and won – taking office in January 2011. She again made history by being the first African American and South Asian American to take the role in history of California.

In 2014, she won her re-election to the role – defeating Republican Ronald Gold by a 15% margin.

When long-serving US Senator for California Barbara Boxer announced she would be stepping down in 2017 – Harris became the leading candidate to replace her.

Harris defeated fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez to take the role – the first time in history that there was no Republican on the ballot in US history for a vote of this kind. Both President Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden endorsed her to be a success in the role. In the wearing in ceremony, it was Biden who did the honours.

After a few years as California’s US Senator, she was considered a front runner for the Democratic nomination for President – however, that would go to Biden. She withdrew from the race in December 2019 due to a lack of funds for her campaign and in March 2020, she endorsed Biden.

On the 11th August 2020, Biden announced that he had chosen Harris for his running mate – and will now take up the role of the Vice President.

As of January 20th 2021, Harris has become the first female, Black and Asian-American Vice President in history.

Was Harris popular with US voters?

During the election campaigns for the respective parties, the topic of who would be the better VP was hotly debated in the UK. However, according to NayaDaya – and before polls opened – Kamala Harris gained strong lead over Republican VP Mike Pence among the black population (positive for Harris 61 % vs. positive for Pence 15 %).

The Hispanic and Latino Americans also favoured Harris over Pence (positive for Harris 55% vs. positive for Pence 30%). Even among the white voters, although the competition was close, Pence lost to Harris (positive for Harris 44% vs. positive for Pence 42%).

According to the data, Harris was especially strong among the young voters between 18-34 (loyal to Harris 40% vs. loyal to Pence 19%), young black voters (loyal to Harris 54% vs. loyal to Pence 11%), and people with annual income under $40k (loyal to Harris 40% vs. loyal to Pence 21%).

The top three most chosen emotions for the re-election of Pence among the black voters were;

  • Disappointment (20%)
  • Disgust (18%)
  • Sadness (7%)
  • No emotion (18%)

The top three emotions for the election of Harris among the black voters were;

  • Pride (18%)
  • Relief (9%)
  • Joy (8%)
  • No emotion 9%

Timo Järvinen, CEO of NayaDaya Inc. said: “Emotional experiences among the African-American voters are like night and day for Pence’s and Harris’ elections. Harris arouses feelings of pride, joy, admiration, and interest that have a strong impact on positive, engaged behavior while emotions toward Pence’s re-election are highly negative and less engaging. Moreover, there are opposite emotions as well – for example, seven percent of the black voters feel contempt toward the election of the first female U.S. vice president in the history.”

The true importance of becoming the first elected female Vice President in US history

Whilst Biden’s win is a landmark event, the huge spotlight on Kamala Harris is fully justified, as she makes history as the first woman – and the first woman of colour – to be elected to the role of vice-president.

Not only this, but the new Presidential term will bear witness to a rise in the number of women across Congress’s two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The fact that women will hold over a quarter of the seats in these chambers in 2021 – a 1.5% increase from its current standing – shows that despite the challenges, there is still a continual improvement of the representation for women.

Business Leader spoke to Rebecca Hourston, Managing Director at Talking Talent to talk about the significance of Harris’ appointment.

Kamala reaching the second highest office in the free world doesn’t give us a pass to hang up our hats and consider the job done! The same applies to business – the old ‘one and done’ on the board mentality holds no place in our world, so more must be done to help women break through their own barriers. Leadership programs last between six and twelve months – but the question for business leaders is: will you help these women to reach their full potential? For Kamala Harris, she has broken through her glass ceiling, having had the right opportunities to progress. With the right support, every woman can reach their zenith.