August 24, 2014

EDITORIAL: Harris must step up her game in second term

Attorney General Kamala Harris almost certainly will lead California's Department of Justice for the next four years, appropriately so.

Attorney General Kamala Harris almost certainly will lead California's Department of Justice for the next four years, appropriately so.

The weakened California Republican Party failed to recruit a candidate to seriously challenge Harris' reelection to the most important statewide office that is not governor or Supreme Court justice.

Four years ago, we endorsed Harris' opponent, former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican. But we never doubted that Harris was energetic and forward-thinking.

In her first four years as attorney general, Harris has focused on consumer issues, suing for-profit Corinthian Colleges for misleading students and wresting tens of billions of dollars for the state from settlements of nationwide lawsuits by the federal government to assist individuals and regions affected by the housing crisis.

She has supported gun control, helped implement Gov. Jerry Brown's criminal justice realignment, tried to bring attention to human trafficking and highlighted threats posed by transnational organized crime.

In 2013, she refused to appeal the court decision overturning Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that sought to ban same-sex marriage. It was an important political and moral stand, and one popular with her Democratic base.

But the state's top lawyer has displayed an unwillingness to take risks. She could be more aggressive on public corruption cases, though her handlers might worry that would cause friction with fellow Democratic politicians. She should raise privacy issues, though that might upset Silicon Valley interests.

She has ducked taking stands on Internet gambling, which is supported by wealthy casino tribes, and marijuana legalization, which is increasingly popular among voters but also would have public safety implications.

Voters deserve to know her views on Vergara v. California, which could become a landmark challenge to the state's teacher tenure rules. Harris says she is precluded from discussing the case because her office represents the state.

Her silence conveniently ensures she will not run afoul of the powerful California Teachers Association, which defends tenure rules, or wealthy school-reform advocates who seek to weaken tenure rules.

Harris' opponent, Los Angeles attorney Ron Gold, has little campaign money or organization. He supports marijuana legalization, but does not appear to have thought through basic details.

The GOP's failure to recruit a worthy opponent to Harris is surprising, given that George Deukmejian, who became governor, and Dan Lungren, a former congressman, held the post in recent decades, and Cooley nearly won four years ago.

Some who work closely with Harris don't see her as particularly committed to the mission of the office. She spends much of her time in Los Angeles and San Francisco — smart politics for an aspiring governor or U.S. senator — but she is needed more in Sacramento, headquarters for the Department of Justice.

Harris' reelection is as close to a fait accompli as there is in politics. She has done nothing that would warrant denying her a second term.

In that second term, she should focus on running the office and taking some stands, even if that means crossing potential supporters.


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