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‘She’s a forceful advocate’: Harris pick gets high marks from many Washington Democrats

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 11, 2020

In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens during a gun safety forum in Las Vegas. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden has chosen Harris as his running mate.  (John Locher)
In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens during a gun safety forum in Las Vegas. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden has chosen Harris as his running mate. (John Locher)
By Jim Camden and Orion Donovan-Smith The Spokesman-Review

The selection of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to be the Democratic nominee for vice president delighted some, encouraged others and disappointed a few party members Tuesday after presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden made his announcement.

“I’m excited on two levels,” said Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who called the pick an iconic moment. “First of all that it’s a woman, and second that it’s a woman of color.”

The televised view of Congress and the White House can be depressing for a woman, particularly one of color, Wilkerson said, and it can be inspirational for women to see themselves at that level of government.

“I don’t want America to think she is the savior of all women. I don’t want to put that kind of responsibility on one person,” she said. “But it is a start, and I believe America is ready.”

Washington voters may be more accustomed than some to having women in elected office, a phenomenon that transcends the political divides on the state’s East and West sides. Spokane has elected four women as mayor in the past 35 years, along with women to the City Council, the county Board of Commissioners, the Legislature and Congress, including current U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Mayor Nadine Woodward.

In 2010, residents of central Spokane had more women representing them in top offices than any other voters in the country: Gov. Christine Gregoire; U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; McMorris Rodgers; County Commissioner Bonnie Mager; Mayor Mary Verner, state Sen. Lisa Brown and City Councilwoman Amber Waldref.

Shari Clarke, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Eastern Washington University, said she was ecstatic Biden picked a woman of color who has experience winning elections.

“Not only does she have African American roots, but she has Asian American roots,” Clarke said.

But as a woman of color, Harris has faced a double-standard, with accusations of being too ambitious or attacking Biden in debates, she said.

“Some of the verbiage they use against women of color is deeply concerning,” Clarke said. “If it was a white male, I think that would be seen as much more acceptable, and actually probably seen as the norm.”

Yvette Joseph, a delegate to next week’s Democratic National Convention, described Harris as a brilliant woman who was good in the debates.

As California attorney general, Harris wasn’t friendly to the tribes on gaming matters, but seemed willing to change some positions as a senator, said Joseph, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes.

“I think she will help the ticket,” added Joseph, a longtime Democratic activist who was a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and John Kerry in 2004.

Delegate Joanne Fleming, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, said she was “very disappointed” by the choice of Harris, who she thinks was the least progressive pick Biden was considering.

“I was hoping they would color outside the lines,” Fleming said, and pick someone like Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth or California Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She worries Harris could be divisive in some areas of the country.

The response from high-ranking Washington Democrats was positive. Gov. Jay Inslee called the Biden-Harris ticket a “dynamic and courageous partnership” he was proud to support. Murray called her a friend and colleague “an excellent partner for Joe Biden as he guides our nation forward.” Cantwell called her a strong voice who “knows how to fight for families living paycheck to paycheck.”

Although Fleming described Harris as “pretty conservative,” the senator was labeled as “the most liberal attorney general” in the U.S. by the Republican Attorney Generals Association and a “far-left radical” by the regional office of the Trump Victory campaign.

City Council President Breean Beggs, another delegate to next week’s convention, said he was excited by the pick and for his twin daughters, who are big fans. He sees her as someone with a powerful voice who is also able to negotiate.

“At this moment in our history, we’re facing questions of criminal justice reform and police reform, she’s going to be a big help to Joe Biden,” Beggs said.

Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said the protests over racial justice are an invitation for the nation to reform.

“What we’re consistently looking for and holding the hope for is that whoever takes office will be of that mind and that group to go ahead and move America closer to that core ideal that was behind the expression of the Founding Fathers,” Robinson said.

The NAACP does not endorse candidates.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose first term overlapped with Harris’ time as attorney general, said the scope of her job for such a large state gives her unique experience with complex issues. She’s a tough negotiator who is willing to “go her own way,” and once threatened to walk away from a national settlement on housing issues, which forced a bigger settlement, he recalled.

“If she’s advocating for you, you’ve got a champion in your corner,” he said.

Ferguson didn’t endorse a candidate in the Democratic presidential field but did meet with Harris when she was in the state; she signed a copy of the Constitution with a note for his daughter. He thinks she has the most important quality for a vice president.

“She’d be ready on Day One” if she were to become president, he said.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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