As her poll numbers surged June 27, following her appearance on the second night of the first Democratic debates, presidential candidate Kamala Harris, currently polling at two percentage points behind front-runner Joe Biden, is facing a number of attacks regarding her race and even her record on an Indian American community issue.
Sikh American attorney Rajdeep Jolly has attacked Harris, who formerly served as California’s attorney general, for allegedly not addressing the issue of Sikh Americans being able to wear their religiously-mandated turbans and beards while being employed at California state prisons. Jolly is circulating a change.org petition that asks the Indian American candidate to apologize to Sikh Americans for allegedly defending a discriminatory policy: https://bit.ly/2XiNVrp. The petition had 610 signatures as of press time July 2.
Jolly told India-West that Harris had settled a religious employment discrimination case without addressing related policy issues. “Historically, the number one civil rights impediment to Sikhs in America in terms of scale has been workplace discrimination. Harris did not help us in 2011.”
“I just want to make sure she helps us if she becomes president. All she needs to say is, 'I made a mistake, and I promise Sikhs will be protected,' ” said Jolly.
Indian American venture capitalist Shelly Collins Kapoor, who serves on the Harris campaign’s National Finance Committee, told India-West that sexism was clearly at play. “The end result (a settlement in favor of the plaintiff) was obtained by Harris. Why is she being denied credit and criticized for obtaining the settlement?” Kapoor queried, also questioning why the issue is now coming up nearly a decade after the case was settled.
The founding partner of the Shatter Fund, which seeks to scale up women’s entrepreneurship, noted that women are consistently held up to a higher set of standards than their male counterparts. “Kamala is always going to do the right thing. She is going to follow the law,” said Kapoor, stating her unequivocal support for the candidate.
“Kamala knows that the economy is a woman’s issue,” said Kapoor, noting that the candidate has championed a myriad of issues, including equal pay. Harris was an early supporter of the Shatter Fund, she said.
Harris has also been attacked on issues of racial identity, with a number of social media trolls who claim she is not authentically African American. (See separate story.)
Regarding Jolly’s petition, in 2005, Trilochan Oberoi, a 65-year-old veteran Indian naval officer, applied to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to work as a prison guard at Folsom State Prison. After passing a number of tests, he was told by prison officials that he would have to shave off his religiously-mandated beard to take a respirator-fit test which requires wearing a gas mask. Oberoi refused and the CDCR denied him employment.
Oberoi sued the state and received a ruling in his favor in 2008 from the State Personnel Board, which noted that the CDCR had made no efforts to accommodate a religious requirement or to consider alternatives to the gas mask.
Former California Attorney General Jerry Brown — who would go on to serve two terms as the state’s governor — challenged the state Personnel Board’s ruling. The state sat on the case for three years as Oberoi awaited a decision.
Harris, who won her first term to serve as the state’s attorney general in 2010, was asked about the case by India-West at a press conference when she announced her win in San Francisco. She told this publication that she did not know about the issue, but would look into it.
Ten months after Harris took office as attorney general, Oberoi was offered an administrative post at the Folsom State Prison, and began working there Nov. 1, 2011. “I feel like a soldier who has finished a long battle,” a jubilant Oberoi told India-West in 2011, shortly after his case was settled (see India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2Xii92u).
Pressed on whether he had brought the issue up as Brown was running for governor, Jolly told India-West that the Sikh Coalition had launched a petition drive asking the community to call upon their state legislators to demand that Brown should rush up a verdict on the long-stalled case.
“We got a lot of push-back from his supporters, who claimed we were being partisan and who felt we were jeopardizing his candidacy by taking this issue up,” he said.
The Sikh Coalition did not ask Brown for an apology, as Jolly has done with Harris.
Harris jumped into the national limelight during the Democratic debate as she challenged former Vice President Joe Biden — easily the front-runner before the debates in the crowded race of 24 candidates — on the issue of school busing and desegregation. She noted that Biden had opposed school busing; as a child growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Harris said she herself had been bussed.
Before the debates, several polls — tracked by Nate Silver’s Web site 538.com — showed Harris’ campaign floundering at single digit polling numbers, well behind Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts. Post the debates, which aired June 25 and 26 with 10 candidates taking the stage each evening in Miami, Florida, Harris has experienced a huge bump-up in the polls, coming in second to Biden by two percentage points in a Quinnipac University poll released July 2.
In that poll, Biden polled at 22 percent, while Harris polled at 20 percent. Warren also got a sizeable bump-up, overtaking Sanders to post at 14 percent.
RealClear Politics also released the results of several polls with numbers on Harris’ ability to beat President Donald Trump. In each of those polls, Harris was predicted to beat Trump by a point spread ranging from 3 to 8 percent. A Fox News poll indicated that Harris would beat Trump by one percentage point.
Indian American businessman Joe Johal, who attended both nights of the debates, told India-West: “Obviously, Kamala Harris was the clear winner.”
“She was prepared, much more than anyone else,” said Johal, who is currently financially backing the presidential campaigns of Harris, and long-shot candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California.
Front runner Biden was not prepared, said Johal, noting that the former vice president’s “delivery was flat and lacked energy.”
Swalwell gained his moment in the national limelight as he asked Biden to step down and hand the torch over to a younger candidate. Johal recalled that Biden “took it on the chin,” but — during a break — walked over to Swalwell to chide him for the remark.
Asked who he would vote for if the Democratic primary were held today, Johal said: “Kamala and Eric are both very close friends. That decision is going to be made by them. One will go forward, one will drop out.”
Pressed on the issue, Johal said Harris will go forward. “She has the support, and the name recognition, and can beat Trump.”