Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and then-candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., shake hands after a Democratic presidential primary debate last September. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and then-candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., shake hands after a Democratic presidential primary debate last September. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Local Black leaders: Harris is blazing new trail in politics

They say the Democratic vice-presidential candidate will crack open a door long shut to women of color.

As news spread Tuesday of Kamala Harris’ selection, community leaders spoke of how this will finally crack open a door in American politics long shut to women of color.

“It is exciting to have a Black woman as a vice president candidate,” said Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County NAACP. “It is going to show young African Americans and other people of color that there are opportunities to be successful in whatever endeavors they choose.

“One day, hopefully, it won’t be a big story to have people of color in the race. Right now, it is,” she said.

Harris’ selection by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, solidifies the ticket heading into next week’s Democratic National Convention. Should Biden win in November, she will become the nation’s first woman and person of color to serve as vice president.

“Sen. Kamala D. Harris is standing on the shoulders of the thousands of phenomenal women that came before her,” said Daria Willis, president of Everett Community College. Willis, the school’s first African-American president, holds a Ph.D. in history with a focus on 19th and 20th century African Americans, women, and the South.

“Her path to this moment was made possible by women such as Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Harriet Tubman, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Sojourner Truth, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Margaret Murray Washington, Adella Hunt Logan, and the foot soldiers of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs,” Willis said.

“These Black women went against the grain to secure equal voting rights for themselves. Had it not been for their struggle and perseverance, Sen. Harris would not be where she is today,” Willis said.

Harris, who will be looking to blaze a trail in a highly partisan campaign cycle, drew praise from Democratic leaders in and from Washington.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell called her Senate colleague “a strong voice for the future of our party.”

“She’s a westerner who has taken on special interests and knows how to fight for families living paycheck to paycheck,” Cantwell added in a written statement.

And Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who, like Harris, made a failed bid for president this year, took to Twitter to praise her as “a true fighter for environmental justice.”

The leader of the Washington State Republican Party said the failed White House bid revealed Harris’ true political self to the nation.

“She didn’t resonate as a candidate because she was viewed as a political opportunist who would say anything to get elected,” said GOP Chairman Caleb Heimlich.

And her backing of a climate change bill known as the Green New Deal and a health care overhaul with “Medicare for all” shows she’s embraced the policies of the far left wing of the Democratic Party, he said.

Willis said Harris “has what it takes to ward off those who will doubt her.”

“She will rise above those that will label her as ‘too ambitious’ and will inspire a generation of women that will follow her lead and continue to break down the glass ceiling that keeps so many of us from ascending to the top,” Willis said. “No matter what happens, she is paving the way for us all.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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