LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Friday that she became a prosecutor because she wanted to work from the inside to change a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects people of color.
“I said there has to be a role for us in the inside of the room where the decisions are being made. That’s the track that I tried to get on to do what we could to reform the system,” the California senator said in Las Vegas.
Harris, who could become the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president, has tried to strike a balance on the campaign trail between highlighting her law enforcement career while addressing a desire among Democratic voters to reform the criminal justice system.
Addressing an audience of black women entrepreneurs at the Mirage casino-resort on the Las Vegas Strip, Harris said she wanted to be “smart on crime” rather than “tough on crime,” and she used her role as prosecutor to create a re-entry program for people convicted of drug crimes to try to prevent them from ending up behind bars again.
Her comments Friday as she was interviewed on stage by lawyer and television personality Star Jones were part of Harris’ first public appearance in Nevada as a presidential candidate.
The early Western caucus state is a key test of a candidate’s message before diverse groups, including a large immigrant population and strong labor unions.
Harris later met with immigrant activists and labor leaders before holding a town hall in a high school gymnasium in North Las Vegas.
To reach out to the state’s Latino community, the campaign provided headsets to attendees who wanted to listen to a Spanish translation of the event, along with signs that read “Kamala Harris for the People” in both English and Spanish.
State Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman endorsed Harris, who spoke about the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting and called for a ban on assault weapons.
The senator said there’s a “false choice” that people can only either be in favor of the Second Amendment to bear arms or want to take everyone’s guns away. She then said the country needs universal background checks.
She also pitched about her tax plan to repeal the 2017 Republican tax cuts for corporations to pay for tax credits for lower and middle-income earners and said she wants to move the country to a “Medicare for all” health care system.