Harris shakes off ‘electability’ argument during Detroit NAACP address

By: - May 6, 2019 7:03 am

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris addresses the Detroit NAACP dinner | Andrew Roth

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has made African American voters a key target early in the presidential race – she’s visited more Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) than other candidates have and frequently touts that her alma mater is an HBCU.

And on Sunday, her first Michigan campaign stop was addressing 10,000 people at the Detroit NAACP’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit.

Harris, who would make history as both the first African American and Indian American female president, argued during her speech that national media narratives about the “electability” of candidates ignores women and people of color, especially in the Midwest.

Detroit NAACP dinner, May 5, 2019 | Andrew Roth

“Too often, their definition of the Midwest leaves people out. It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day, many of them working without equal pay,” Harris said. “And the conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all our families. It’s shortsighted. It’s wrong. And voters deserve better.”

Harris also used her address to contrast herself with President Donald Trump.

“This guy in the White House said neo-Nazis were fine people when they marched on Charlottesville, [Va.]. He’s attacked communities of color and leaders of color by name. He denigrated entire countries on the continent of Africa with foul language no president should speak,” Harris said. “This president isn’t trying to make America great. He’s trying to make America hate.”

President Donald J. Trump, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Flickr

Harris said that it is time for a “new kind of leadership” that “speaks truths.”

“One of the most important elements of trust is truth,” Harris said. “And that’s something we don’t get a lot of in Washington, D.C., these days.”

“There is an incentive that when we speak, we will make everybody happy, we will make everybody feel lovely, and our job will be done. Speaking truth doesn’t always accomplish that goal,” Harris continued. “But there’s another thing about speaking truth. Yes, people may walk away from that conversation thinking, ‘I didn’t particularly like what I had to hear,’ but they will also walk away from that conversation knowing it was an honest conversation.”

Harris began laying out her platform, saying, “So let’s speak truths today.”

Harris said that while unemployment in the United States is the lowest it has been since 1969, that does not tell the whole story.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris addresses the Detroit NAACP dinner | Andrew Roth

“The economy of our country is not working for working people,” she said.

Almost half of American families would not be able to afford an unexpected $400 expense, Harris said, and minimum-wage employees working full time cannot afford market rate for a one-bedroom apartment.

But the issue is especially hard for women of color, Harris said.

“When today, Black families own $5 of wealth for every $100 of their white counterparts, we need to speak truth. When Black women are still paid 61 cents on the dollar, we need to speak that truth,” Harris said. “When more than a third of Black children live in poverty and black infants are twice as likely to die than other babies, we need to speak that truth.”

To solve the issue, Harris says she would give “the largest tax cut for middle-class and working families in a generation,” which she would pay for by reversing the tax code overhaul that Republicans in Congress passed and Trump signed in 2017.

Harris, who was the first female attorney general of California, said that the criminal justice system needs changes, as well.

“Let’s speak truth. We have a criminal justice system in this country that is deeply flawed, infected with bias and in need of reform,” Harris said, noting that it has been seven years since Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris addresses the Detroit NAACP dinner | Andrew Roth

“This is still everyday life for young Black people in America. Let’s speak that truth that it is intolerable and it has got to end,” Harris said.

Harris said that she would enforce consent decrees and end the cash bail system if elected president.

But the senator said any reform that requires Democrats in office face an uphill battle due to voter suppression.

“Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum would be the governor of Florida,” Harris said. “So the truth is, we need a new Voting Rights Act.”

Among the changes Harris wants to see are same-day voter registration, which Michigan now has after passing Proposal 3 of 2018, and Election Day as a national holiday.

Journalist April Ryan at the Detroit NAACP dinner | Andrew Roth

Both journalist April Ryan and rapper Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam, better known as “Akon,” were honored at the Detroit NAACP dinner.

Among the elected officials attending were Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as the Advance first reported, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib) Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.

Harris is one of seven presidential candidates making campaign stops in Michigan over the last week. Her schedule also includes a Dearborn school tour and a town hall with educators on Monday where she will tout her policy to give teachers a $13,500 raise.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam and businessman Andrew Yang all spoke at the National Organization of Black County Officials’ Economic Development (NOBCO) conference in Detroit. Yang also held a rally in Detroit, while U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) spoke to the Kent County Democratic Party at a fundraiser in Grand Rapids.

Andrew Yang speaking in Detroit | Derek Robertson

Three other Democratic presidential candidates – former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – have previously visited Michigan. Klobuchar and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson have scheduled visits later this month.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also hit the campaign trail in Michigan this year, and former Democratic presidential candidate Richard Ojeda spoke at a protest outside Trump’s rally in Grand Rapids.

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.