California Attorney General Kamala Harris made history Nov. 8, handily winning her race with a double-digit lead to become the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m.
The Democrat – who challenged fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez for retiring Barbara Boxer’s vacant Senate seat – is also the second African American woman to be elected to the Senate. Polls taken before election night showed Harris leading by a wide margin of 51 percent to Sanchez’s 29 percent. Harris held on to her lead and emerged victorious.
Harris raised a campaign war-chest of approximately $13 million, much of it coming from the entertainment industry. Actors Sean Penn, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, Ben Affleck, Judd Apatow, Jane Fonda and Jon Cryer were amongst the celebrities who donated the maximum amount – $2,700 – to Harris’s campaign, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Sanchez raised about $2.5 million.
“I’ve never been so excited about a publicly-elected person,” Suneil Parulekar, a retired Silicon Valley semiconductor executive, told India-West. Parulekar said he considers himself an independent, and has voted for both Republican and Democratic candidates.
Parulekar is on the board of Pratham’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter. The non-profit organization – India’s largest education-focused NGO – held a fundraising gala in Palo Alto, Calif., Aug. 27, featuring the soon-to-be senator as the keynote speaker.
“I really got to know her then. She’s incredibly brilliant and passionate about doing the right thing for Californians and all Americans,” said Parulekar, adding that after the gala, he and his wife – bolstered by their children – gave the maximum contribution of $2,700 each to Harris’s campaign. “Eight years from today, we will be electing Kamala as the next U.S. president,” he predicted.
In an interview with India-West this summer, Harris stated her support for a ban on all assault weapons. “You can support the Second Amendment and also support gun safety,” she said, adding: “You don’t need an AK47 for sports hunting.”
Earlier this year, Harris backed a bill in the California state Assembly that would ban military-style assault rifles, and a second measure that would re-classify “bullet button” guns – which are easier to re-load – as assault rifles. “The devastation wrought by gun violence on innocent victims, children and families in this country is an international embarrassment,” said Harris, who has served two terms as California’s attorney general, after she served as the district attorney of San Francisco.
Harris – who calls herself the “nation’s top cop” as she is the attorney general of the largest state in the country – said she also supports stricter background checks for would-be purchasers of weapons.
Once elected, Harris told India-West she hopes to create a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents, particularly the population known as “Dreamers” – undocumented youth – and children who entered the country unaccompanied by parents.
Harris said she also wants to create a greater supply of H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers. Indian nationals make up the vast majority of H-1B visa recipients.
New York-based philanthropist Dinayar ‘Dinny’ Devitre, Pratham USA’s chairman who attended the Palo Alto gala, told India-West he was awed by Harris’s advocacy for providing educational resources to low-income children at an early age, as an inoculator against juvenile crime.
“What Pratham is doing in India, Kamala is doing successfully in the U.S.,” said Devitre, who with his wife Aashish has also donated the maximum amount to Harris’s Senate campaign.
San Francisco-based venture capitalist M.R. Rangaswami told India-West he has known Harris since she was the city’s district attorney. “I could really see her perspective was broader. She has a much more holistic approach to battling crime and juvenile delinquency.”
“It’s easy to say ‘throw them into juvenile hall’ and too easy to put them behind bars. Kamala approaches it by saying, ‘let me go talk to the parents of these kids. Let’s see what’s going on at home,” said Rangaswami.
The community activist organized a roundtable with Harris and several Indian American leaders before California’s primary election in June. During the 55-minute briefing, the group discussed immigration – Harris stated her support for comprehensive immigration reform.
The group also discussed the capital gains tax. Rangaswami explained that one out of every 1,000 companies succeed. “When that happens, a heavy tax is not an incentive,” he said, noting that Harris seemed sensitive to entrepreneurship issues.
The group also discussed the school text book controversy, which aims to develop a plan for how Indians and Indian history should be portrayed in California elementary school textbooks.
“Kamala is going to be a fantastic, dynamic leader on the national stage,” said Rangaswami, adding: “she’s got unlimited potential.”