Kamala Harris Among The Rising Dem Stars At DNC

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is a rising star in the Democratic Party who is scheduled to speak at its national convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Political conventions are designed not only to kickoff the fall campaigns of the presidential candidates; they're also an audition stage for each party's rising stars. This week, delegates at the Democratic National Convention and viewers at home will meet the hard-charging attorney general of California, Kamal Harris.

NPR's Richard Gonzales has this profile.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Kamala Harris is probably best known for staring down the nation's five biggest banks.

KAMALA HARRIS: This issue has never been about anything other than allowing homeowners, hard-working people, to be able to stay in their homes.

GONZALES: About a year ago, the banks offered a deal to the attorneys general of all the states, to settle allegations of abusive mortgage practices. But Harris walked away from the table and held off for five months until the banks finally sweetened the deal. Last February, she announced that California would get $18 billion settlement; 12 billion of which would go to writing down the principal for underwater homeowners.

HARRIS: And we were very determined to make sure that California, the hardest hit in the country, would receive its fair share.

GONZALES: It was a sweet victory for the 47-year-old Harris, who is California's first woman, first African-American, and first South Asian to be elected attorney general. She is the daughter of immigrants. Her mother was a breast cancer researcher from India, her Jamaican father taught economics at Stanford. As a young prosecutor, Harris cut her teeth on cases of homicide, domestic violence and sex slavery.

Later, at San Francisco's district attorney, she doubled her predecessor's conviction rate and she talked about being smart on crime.

HARRIS: To be smart on crime, we should not be in a position of constantly reacting to crime after it happens. We should be looking at preventing crime before it happens.

GONZALES: But unlike most D.A.s, Harris hasn't enjoyed strong support from police. In fact, no police association supported her bid for attorney general. In 2004, she incurred the wrath of the San Francisco Police Officers Association when she declined to seek the death penalty for a man convicted of killing an undercover cop.

Gary Delagnes is the president of the San Francisco Police union.

GARY DELAGNES: And, you know, I find her to be a nice person, a charming person, a very effective politician. But at the same time, the damage that was done eight years ago will probably forever poison the relationship between, Kamala Harris and the services of police officers.

GONZALES: But to her fans that case is proof that Harris can take the heat and stand on her principles when it comes to the death penalty, to which she remains philosophically opposed. Now, Democratic Party insiders see a bright future for Harris as a possible candidate for governor or senator. Political consultant Christopher Lehane.

CHRISTOPHER LEHANE: Every single day she is doing stuff to hold criminals accountable, to hold big banks accountable. I mean there's not that many Democrats or Republicans in the country who could run anywhere else in the country and say I stood up to the banking industry. I took them on and I won. That's the type of toughness that people like.

GONZALES: Lehane says the rest of the country will see that Harris has the brains, vision, and charisma to go far

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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