Little Village is posting videos of all 19 speeches made by the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids, so readers can hear each candidate in his or her own words.
In her speech at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration, Sen. Kamala Harris repeatedly called out Donald Trump by name, delivering a metaphorical bill of indictment against the president.
“And Iowa, I’m going to tell you, there’s a rap sheet full of evidence to make the case,” the California senator said.
Harris described Trump’s various broken campaign promises as kinds of fraud (healthcare fraud, tax fraud, securities fraud), building to a climax that had the audience applauding: “And then he claims to be the best president we’ve seen in a generation. Well, I say, let’s call Barack Obama, because that’s identity fraud.”
It was a very different approach than Harris took during her town hall-style campaign event at the Iowa Memorial Union in April. During that event, Harris never mentioned Trump by name, focusing instead on policy proposals and the importance of recognizing this is an “inflection point in the history of our country.”
It’s not surprising that Harris would frame her critique of Trump in legal terms. From 1990 to 2000, she was a deputy district attorney, first in Alameda County (where her hometown of Oakland is located) and then in San Francisco. In 2000, she joined the city attorney’s office. Three years later, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. In 2010, she was elected Attorney General of California, and served in that position until she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Harris made history in her role as district attorney and attorney general. She was the first woman to hold either position, as well as the first person of either Jamaican or Indian descent to do so. (Harris’ father was an immigrant from Jamaica and her mother immigrated to the United States from India.) Harris was the first person of color to be elected attorney general of any state.
“I spent a career as a prosecutor,” Harris told the audience in Cedar Rapids. “And I prosecuted those who preyed on the most vulnerable—murderers and rapists. I prosecuted banks. I prosecuted big pharmaceutical companies, who were preying on the most vulnerable and consumers. I prosecuted the big banks and for-profit colleges, who were defrauding homeowners and consumers.”
(Harris was the first candidate at the June 9 event to use a handheld microphone instead of speaking from the podium. The mic cut out occasionally as she spoke.)
Harris has campaigned on her record as a prosecutor in her presidential run, but she also faced criticism for her actions in that role, especially for her “anti-truancy” program as San Francisco DA, which she later helped introduce statewide as attorney general.
In that program, parents whose children had a substantial number of unexcused school absences totaling more than 10 percent of the days each school year were threatened with prosecution.
In her 2011 inaugural address as California Attorney General, Harris said her program had increased attendance rates in San Francisco schools by 32 percent. During this year’s campaign, Harris has emphasized that no parents were prosecuted in San Francisco. However, more than 40 parents has been prosecuted statewide for their children’s failure to attend school, according to media reports.
Harris didn’t mention the anti-truancy program in Cedar Rapids, but she did highlight her proposal to increase the pay of K-12 public school teachers. The senator has proposed a $315 billion federal program to provide matching funds to states to close the discrepancy between the pay of teachers and the median pay of other professionals with the same level of education.
“In Iowa, that teacher pay gap is $12,200 a year,” Harris said during her IMU town hall.
In Cedar Rapids, she said her decision to make the matching funds program a central part of her campaign came after meeting with Iowa teachers.
“At that meeting, you said to me, ‘Hey, Kamala, you know this issue of teacher pay you’ve been talking about is a national issue,’” Harris said. “And it was because of the conversation that we’ve had that, as my first policy proposal, I’m prepared to make the first federal investment in the history of our country in closing that teacher pay gap.”
That was the only specific policy proposal Harris included her Cedar Rapids speech. She otherwise stuck to general themes and legal imagery.
“I’m here to ask for your support, because I am prepared to make the case for America, and to prosecute the case against Donald Trump,” Harris said.