While recent polls suggest that the races for California governor and U.S. senator will favor Democratic candidates Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, the office of attorney general is still very much up for grabs. The district attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Republican Steve Cooley and Democrat Kamala Harris, respectively, face off on Tuesday — and they couldn’t be more different. The 63-year-old Cooley is a moderate conservative who says he will support Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved initiative banning same-sex marriage, in a federal appeals court; the 46-year-old mixed-race Harris has vowed to let Prop. 8 die. While raising money for her campaign Friday at West Hollywood’s SoHo House, Harris spoke to The Advocate about Prop. 8, civil rights, and how the California attorney general is a job with national implications. Karl Rove certainly understands the significance of the position — a political action group he cofounded recently gave Cooley’s campaign $1.1 million.
The Advocate: Tell us again your feelings on Prop. 8.
Kamala Harris: First, the office of attorney general in the state of California is one of the most powerful in the country in terms of the direct impact we have on very important issues. Prop. 8 is an example of that — we need to have leadership in the state that’s focused on not only the commitment to innovation but a preservation of civil rights. I agree with Governor Schwarzenegger and [current] attorney general Jerry Brown that the limited resources of the state of California should not be used to defend a law that was found to be unconstitutional — I would not defend it.
Do gay people you've spoken to in the course of the campaign understand how you or Steve Cooley could affect their right to marry?
I’m concerned that not as many people are informed as should be, because I think if they did know they would certainly be outraged — at least concerned. Proposition 8 was put on the ballot to basically suggest we are not equal as people. It’s a fundamental civil rights issue, and a fundamental fairness. The second part of this issue that is significant is what happens in California will invariably impact the rest of the country. So the decision the next A.G. makes on this issue will impact not only the people of California but our country and this movement, which has been hard-fought and should be won.
What would you say to gay voters who are unhappy with Democrats, especially in light of the Obama administration appealing federal court decisions overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and “don’t ask, don’t tell?”
We have a struggle for civil rights on this issue — Coretta Scott King famously said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation. I think she said that because she understood that it’s a constant struggle — let’s not be weary, let’s not be discouraged, let’s certainly not be depressed, because by the very nature of civil rights, we have to continually fight for it. So let’s understand that that is part of the challenge, and in that way stay committed and vigilant. So on that point and in that spirit, we have to always stay focused on the fact that we will win but it’s going to be a struggle and a fight and we will have setbacks, but we have to jump back up and keep fighting.