California Senate candidate Harris touches Democratic themes on statewide tour

Democrat Kamala Harris speaks at an event this month at the Building and Construction Trades Council in Los Angeles.
Democrat Kamala Harris speaks at an event this month at the Building and Construction Trades Council in Los Angeles. The Associated Press

State Attorney General Kamala Harris eased into her role as U.S. Senate candidate on Thursday, hitting themes popular with Democratic voters at a meet-and-greet event with activists in downtown Sacramento.

Harris was joined by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lauded her as the “easy choice” to succeed Sen. Barbara Boxer next year. She said her priorities include boosting the federal minimum wage, renewing the ban on assault weapons and mounting a national commitment to paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and affordable child care.

Harris’ statewide tour is designed to put her in front of Democratic Party delegates who next month will have the chance to further boost her front-runner status by endorsing the campaign at the state convention. Yet the events also have proven to be a valuable early training ground for her to refine her solutions to federal issues seldom associated with attorneys general.

She called for greater urgency in tackling climate change, characterizing it as a matter of public health and economic justice for struggling families. Harris said she wants to export the state’s cap and trade policies, as well as its targets for renewable energy, and reiterated her support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial twin tunnels water-diversion plan, saying future wars between countries will be fought not over oil but water.

“I think its a smart idea,” she said of the tunnels. “However, I think that we have to monitor it and be diligent about how we do that ... in terms of any cost overruns, in terms of looking at the schedule and making sure that it’s being done as presented.”

For a campaign rally, with two of the state’s rising Democratic stars, the afternoon was heavy on policy. Harris said there’s still a way to go to enhance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the state and around the rest of the country. Even issues involving protecting abortion rights, seemingly settled in California, sadly are not so elsewhere, Harris said.

“For any of you who saw the president of Planned Parenthood testify before Congress, it was a shame. I was embarrassed,” she said. “They drilled her and cross-examined her like she committed a crime.”

An undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

Harris largely avoided any mention of her challengers, namely Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who appeared at a forum Wednesday hosted by the Latino Journal and focused on immigration. Harris didn’t attend, but said she’s troubled by Washington rhetoric conflating criminal justice and immigration polices “as though they are the same thing.”

“I have seen criminals. I have seen crime. An undocumented immigrant is not a criminal,” she said.

Asked what could be done to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which held free-speech protections do not allow limiting political independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions, Harris was brief: Elect Hillary Clinton, she said to laughter. Still, while she was critical of high court decisions, including invalidating key parts of the Voting Rights Act, Harris would not say whether she would have voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, nominated by former President George W. Bush in 2005.

Said Harris: “The jury is out on that.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago