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Indian American Harris makes prime time address at DNC

September 06, 2012 11:58 IST

California Attorney General Kamala Harris' close friendship with the president, gives her a prime time slot on the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina; in her remarks she bemoans the foreclosure contagion and recalls how proud her mom was when she bought her home. Aziz Haniffa reports

It was one up for the Indian American Democrats over their Republican counterparts, when Kamala Devi Harris, the first Indian American as well as the first African American -- not to mention first female-- attorney general of California was accorded a prime prime slot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, making it the second consecutive day an Indian American addressed the delegates and the nation at a national party convention.

Actor and political activist, Kal Penn had addressed the convention at prime time on the first day. Both Harris and Penn are national co-chairs of the Obama re-election campaign, but Harris' friendship with Obama goes back over five years, when at the time she was the district attorney of San Francisco, California and was one of the first people to endorse then Senator Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Indian American Republicans would have had this envious record of having two of their stars address the GOP Convention in Tampa, Florida last month, if not for Mother Nature diverting tropical storm Isaac to Louisiana which torpedoed Governor Piyush 'Bobby Jindal's scheduled prime time address, which would have followed a day after the prime time address by South Carolina Governor Nimrata 'Nikki' Haley on the first day of the abbreviated convention.

Harris, who was the co­-chair of the rules committee to the convention, with Maryland Governor Martin O' Malley, who is strongly tipped to be a viable president candidate in 2016, did make an appearance on the first day of the convention, with O'Malley, but that was not at prime time but earlier in the evening when she presented the Rules Committee report.

Sources acknowledged that she was not billed to speak the next day at prime time, but when the party leadership was informed by the California political leadership that she should be given a prime time slot because of her close friendship with Obama, they had moved quickly to include her on the slate as a build-up to the speech later in the night by former President Bill Clinton.

In her remarks, the glamorous Harris, 46, dressed in an all-white business suit with a matching double-string necklace of white pearls, wasted no time in pillorying the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, warning that he would turn back all the gains for the middle-class instituted by President Obama.

She also bemoaned the housing foreclosure contagion and recalled nostalgically when her mother, bought her home, a basic fundamental of the American Dream that had now been compromised due to the economic negligence of the previous administration that left President Obama with a near recession that he had alleviate and protect the middle-class from going under.

Declaring, "Let's get right down to business," Harris said, "We are here because we love our country, and we firmly believe in the American ideal that our country should work for everyone. That ideal is written into our laws, the rules of the road that create a level playing field in this country."

"Those are the rules I became attorney general to uphold. And those are the rules Mitt Romney would have us roll back," she said.

Warning that Romney, if elected, would de-regulate the rules to the extent that it would compromise the environment and health, particularly of women and families, Harris, said, "He would roll back the rules that protects the air we breathe and the water we drink. Roll back the rules that protect the health and safety of women and families. Roll back the rules that prevent the kind of recklessness that got our economy into this mess in the first place."

Harris argued that "We've all seen what happens when you roll back those rules. What happens are rows of foreclosure signs. What happens is mountains of family debt. What happens is a middle class that's hurting. That's what we've seen in towns across California and across this country."

She said, "When it comes to the housing crisis, the choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is clear. The fact is, we don't have to guess what Mitt Romney would have done if he were president. Because he told us. He said we should let foreclosures -- and I quote -- 'hit the bottom' so the market could – quote --'run its course.'

"Run its course. That's not leadership. Doing nothing while the middle class is hurting. That's not leadership. Loose regulations and lax enforcement. That's not leadership. That's abandoning our middle class."

Harris said that thanks to President Obama, there was "Wall Street reform to prevent any more taxpayer-funded bailouts. President Obama won credit card reform so you don't get stuck with hidden fees and sudden rate hikes. President Obama stood with me and 48 other attorneys general in taking on the banks and winning $25 billion for struggling homeowners."

"That's leadership! That's what President Obama did. And that's why we need to give him another four years. We need to move forward. President Obama will fight for working families. He will fight to level the economic playing field and fight to give every American the same fair shot my family had."

Harris then recalled how "My mother, Shyamala Harris, bought our first home. I was 13. She was so proud, and my sister and I were so excited. Millions of Americans know that feeling of walking through the front door of their own home for the first time -- the feeling of reaching for opportunity and finding it."

Thus, she argued, "That's the choice in this election. It's a choice between an America where opportunity is open to everyone, where everyone plays by the same set of rules, or a philosophy that tilts the playing field to help the wealthiest few. A choice between holding Wall Street accountable or letting it write its own rules."

"Mitt Romney subscribes to the cynical logic that says the American Dream belongs to some of us, but not all of us," she added.

Harris asserted, "I'll tell you whom the American Dream belongs to. It belongs to the student in Sacramento who doesn't have much money but who goes to bed each night dreaming big dreams. It belongs to the men and women across this country who know it shouldn't be against the law to marry the person you love."

"It belongs to the immigrants, young and old, who come to this country in search of a better life. And it belongs to little girls who have the joy of watching their mother, like I did, buy her first home."

Saying that "the American Dream belongs to all of us," Harris predicted that "If we can work together and stand together and vote together on November 6 for President Barack Obama, that's a dream we will put within reach of all our people!"

Two years ago, in an interview with rediff.com, when she began her run for the office of attorney general, Harris, said she was  very proud of her Indian cultural heritage, shaped largely thanks to her mother and grandfather, who was a fighter in the Indian independence movement.

In December 2003, the Oakland-born Harris, raised with her sister Maya in the East Bay area by their mother Dr Shyamala Gopalan -- a breast cancer specialist at Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California -- after her parents divorced, became the first woman to be elected district attorney in San Francisco's history, and the first African American woman in California and the first Indian American in the nation to hold this office.

A product of public schools, Harris is an alumnus of Howard University, America's oldest historically black university, and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and from then on has spent her entire professional life in the trenches as a courtroom prosecutor.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Harris was the co-chair of the campaign to elect Obama in California and at the time the The Sacramento Bee recalled that 'Barack Obama summoned Harris as his stand-in at the state democratic convention,' and recalled how 'she made his California campaign pitch to delegates to counter a fellow named Bill Clinton, who was there raising the roof on behalf of candidate Hillary Clinton.'

A recipient of numerous awards, she was recognised as a 'Woman of Power' by the National Urban League and received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association.

Before she ran for attorney general of California, she was featured by the New York Times on a list of 17 women most likely to become the first lady President.

Harris was also featured on the Oprah Show and in Newsweek as one of 'America's 20 Most Powerful Women,' and during the Democratic National Convention in 2008 was part of the powerful policymaking Platform Committee.

In the interview with rediff.com, Harris spoke of how her "mother was very proud of her Indian heritage and taught us (herself and her sister Maya) to share in the pride about our culture. We used to go back to India every couple of years. One of the most influential people in my life, in addition to my mother, was my grandfather (T V Gopalan), who actually held a post in India that was like the secretary of state position in this country. My grandfather was one of the original Independence fighters in India and some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with him after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar in Madras."

She also shared with rediff.com of how "I was with the President when he and the First Lady announced in Springfield (Illinois, that he was going to seek the presidency). I was with them when we campaigned in Iowa that week before Christmas and New Year, and I've been all over the country in support of the president. I was the co-chair for the California campaign and I was probably the first elected to endorse the president in California."

Harris said she had supported Obama, "When he ran for the senate and he came out and one of the first events he did after he was elected to the United States Senate is that he came out and did an event in support of me in San Francisco when I was about to run for re-election as district attorney. And, so, we have a history of supporting each other."

Image: California Attorney General Kamala Harris addresses the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Picture: Jason Reed/Reuters

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC