When the Associated Press announced Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of the 2020 presidential election, it was a historic moment for the position of vice president.
Harris is the first woman, first person of color and first person of Asian heritage to be elected to the position, according to BBC News.
Harris originally ran as a competitor to Biden during the Democratic primaries of the election. She suspended her campaign in December 2019, officially endorsed Biden the following March and was announced as his running mate on Aug. 11, 2020, according to the Associated Press.
Biden described Harris as “a fearless fighter for the little guy and one of the country's finest public servants” when he announced her as his running mate over Twitter.
Chase Compton, president of the Missouri State University College Democrats, said he believes Harris’ insight into diversity is one of the top reasons Biden selected her as running mate.
“The Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining more and more traction, and having someone with both experience in law enforcement and the perspective of a woman of color is extremely beneficial to ensuring everyone’s voices are heard,” Compton said.
Harris was born and spent her early childhood in Oakland, California, the daughter of an Indian immigrant mother and a Jamaican immigrant father, according to BBC News. Harris was raised primarily by her mother, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist, after her parents divorced when she was five years old.
Although Harris’ mother took her and her younger sister, Maya, on trips to India during their childhood, she fully embraced the culture of Oakland, Harris said in her autobiography “The Truths We Hold.”
“She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud Black women,” Harris wrote in her autobiography.
Harris graduated with a law degree from the University of California and held her first elected position as the district attorney of San Francisco in 2003, according to her Senate campaign webpage. In 2010 she served as California’s attorney general, the highest law official in the state.
Her history in law includes protecting gay marriage, defending the Affordable Care Act and starting a re-entry program that gives first-time drug offenders opportunities for education and employment, according to her Senate campaign webpage.
After Harris was elected as a senator of California in 2016, she quickly drew attention as an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, according to the Associated Press.
According to Politico news, Harris drew criticism from other candidates during the 2019 Democratic debates for her legal record, including raising conviction rates while in San Francisco and having inconsistent stances on the death penalty.
Sam Smith, executive director of the Greene County Democrats, said Harris’ experience as attorney general was about rising to the moment and doing what was necessary for the position she was holding.
“Within the confines of the job she’s provided, she’s able to listen to her constituents and make the decision that the majority of them support, which can be difficult to do as a legislator when you have a lot of special interest groups against you,” Smith said.
In addition to breaking new ground in diversity in the White House, Harris will be in the unique situation of serving with the oldest president ever elected, as Biden will be 78 years old when inaugurated in January. One role of the vice president is to be the first in line of succession should the president leave office.
“Minority groups and women are already represented as leaders of their countries on the global stage,” Smith said, using Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel as examples. “Just because this is the first time for the United States doesn’t mean the world isn’t ready for it.”
Biden and Harris will be sworn into office at the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20, 2021.