Orinda, CA – 8/30/2010
The battle for state attorney general has transmogrified into a classic representation of the schism between Northern and Southern California. It features two candidates who embody different backgrounds, ages, races, sexes, personalities, religious beliefs, ideologies … well, nearly different everythings except for their current job. As a Bay Area resident and a social liberal, it’s obvious my choice will be impacted more by personal beliefs than the qualifications of the candidates.
A recent article in SFGate.com described how Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley (R) ripped San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris (D) as a “radical” representing “a tremendous threat to public safety”. Cooley criticized Harris for opposing the death penalty and for carrying out San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. Harris’ spokesman, Brian Brokaw, fired back: “Cooley’s red-meat rhetoric may go over well with his party’s right-wing faithful, but Cooley is out of touch with California voters”.
If successful, Harris would be the first woman and first person of color elected to the state office. As a Latino and an educator, I think diversity is a very good thing.
Born in Oakland, California, Harris is the daughter of Dr. Donald Harris, a Jamaican American economics professor at Stanford University, and Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, a breast cancer specialist who immigrated to the United States from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1960. While Harris was raised in a black neighborhood and attended black churches in Oakland, she also worshipped in her mother’s Hindu temple and has made many visits to her family in India.
Harris is opposed to the death penalty, believing that life without possibility of parole is a more efficient and cost effective punishment. In two high-profile cases, one of which involved the murder of a police officer, Harris refused to seek the death penalty for the killers. As long as there is truly zero possibility of parole, then I agree with her.
Harris has raised the overall conviction rates since she took office. While police have credited her with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants exploit, they have also accused her of being slow to prosecute murder suspects. Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit which focuses on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools, supports same-sex marriage, and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8. While her office clearly mis-handled a drug theft scandal at the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab last year, it’s not a clear indictment of her capabilities.
By contrast, Cooley was born, raised and educated in the Los Angeles area. His father was an FBI agent and his mother a homemaker. Cooley is a Caucasian and a devout Christian who “would defend Proposition 8 in court if given the opportunity”. He served over seven years as a reserve police officer with LAPD and 27 years as a prosecutor.
However, a californiawatch.org report listed numerous complaints against Cooley. Advocates for battered women claimed that, in eight out of eight cases, he opposed the use of a California law that allows battered women in prison to be given a new hearing if evidence of domestic violence was omitted during the original proceedings. Just a week before his 2008 re-election, Cooley was attacked for a deal that he made with defense attorneys and judges to postpone seeking tougher sanctions against a group of serious sex offenders that had completed their prison terms.
In March 2010, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Cooley and ordered him to stop discriminating against his employees on the basis of union membership. In April, the union representing Los Angeles County prosecutors filed a class action lawsuit against Cooley, alleging that obtained a list of 650 prosecutors who supported the union and used that list to harass and intimidate the prosecutors and damage their careers.
Frankly, I don’t care about the backgrounds other than to view how each approaches their concept of “justice”. On the other hand, I am deeply offended by some of the “red-neck” mentality Brokaw implies about Cooley. I live near San Francisco rather than L.A. for many reasons, and I know in which direction I’ll be voting for attorney general.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley (R) and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris (D), battling for the state attorney general position, represent the schism between Northern and Southern California.