If elected, Harris would be the first woman, first Indian American, and first Black vice president.
Rep. Shelia Stubbs remembers the first time she met Sen. Kamala Harris.
It was June 9, 2018, at a “Re-elect Tammy Baldwin for Senator” event in Madison. Stubbs remembers telling Harris that she was running for an Assembly seat and, if she won, she would be the first person of color to ever represent the district that includes a portion of Madison.
“You got to win first,” Stubbs said Harris told her. “Whatever I can do to help you be successful, count me in. I will help you.”
Five months later Stubbs won her seat. Now she is ready to help Harris make history as the first Black woman to be elected vice president of the United States.
“I never had a chance to go back and say ‘thank you,’” Stubbs told UpNorthNews Tuesday. “This is my chance now.”
On Tuesday, Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, followed through on his promise to pick a woman of color as his running mate.
Biden announced the decision via text to his campaign supporters.
“Big news: I’ve chosen Kamala Harris as my running mate. Together, with you, we’re going to beat Trump,” the text said.
Harris has represented California in the U.S. Senate since 2017, and before that she was the state’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney.
Harris was also a candidate to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and got in a notable exchange with Biden in a June 2019 debate over desegregating schools. Harris dropped out of the presidential nominee race before the Iowa Caucus, and endorsed Biden in March.
“It hits me in this place … a place that I never thought I would see this happen,” said Sarah Ishmael, a doctoral candidate at UW-Madison School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “I think it is incredible. I am really excited. I am excited because of what she will do as Senate president. She knows how to lead and ask difficult questions.”
Like Harris, who is the daughter of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, Ishmael is also the daughter of immigrants. Both her parents are from Trinidad and Tobago.
For Ishmael, Biden’s pick gives the ticket a push beyond the average.
“What Harris offers me is that she is not mediocre,” Ishmael said. “I am done with mediocrity. This pick gives me hope.”
While Biden’s pick elevates one woman of color to run for the second-highest office in the country, Wisconsin has a sparse history of electing women and women of color.
Consider: Of the 132 members of the state Legislators, 27 percent are women.
Of the 32 members of the Senate, eight are women and two, Sen. LaTonya Johson and Sen. Lena Taylor, both from Milwaukee, are Black women.
Of the 99 members of the Assembly, 28 are women and two are Black women, Stubbs and Rep. Lakeshia Myers, D- Milwaukee.
Overall, Wisconsin ranks 32nd nationally for percentage of female legislators.
Erin Forrest, executive director of Emerge Wisconsin, a nonprofit that recruits Democratic women to run for office, said Wisconsin has elected two women to a federal office – Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore.
“And they are both still serving. That’s the end of the list,” Forrest said.
Not every progressive woman supports Biden’s choice of Harris.
Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a professor of history and women’s, gender, and sexual studies at UW-Eau Claire, was critical of the pick.
She said she would have liked to have seen Biden choose someone with a more progressive record, such as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren or former Georgia politician and activist Stacey Abrams. Harris attracted criticism for her treatment of prison inmates during her time as California attorney general.
Policing of Black people has garnered an international spotlight since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“I was less interested in her race and more interested in how she is going to deal with police issues as they relate to the Black community,” said Ducksworth-Lawton who is also affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “Just because she’s Black doesn’t mean she is the best candidate.”
Ishmael also mentioned Harris’ time as attorney general but she had a different perspective.
“Harris, as attorney general, was unnecessarily punitive and did not solve the issue of making sure Black kids went to school. My issue with her is over a truancy law that led to the arrest of some of the parents,” said Ishmael, who has a masters in education policy such as the truancy law. “She apologized for that, though. And for me, that is the big thing. She apologized.”
Harris is aligned with upper-class Blacks, but has not worked in the past to address the concerns of other African-Americans, Ducksworth-Lawton said. Democrats are trying to boost Black turnout in the Nov. 3 presidential election “and this is not a pick that recognizes that,” she said.
“She is not a Black person who has been a friend to the Black community,” Ducksworth-Lawton said.
Ishamel acknowledged Harris will not be the “be all and end all for all Black woman.”
For young children and young women of color, Forrest said the elevation of a woman of color to the vice presidential pick speaks volumes.
“It is harder to be what you can’t see,” Forrest said. “That representation is tremendously important. A whole other group of people get to see themselves in that role.”
Julian Emerson contributed to this report.