'Today' Hypes San Fran DA as 'The Female Barack Obama'

October 29th, 2009 3:04 PM

NBC's Matt Lauer, on Thursday's "Today" show, handed San Francisco Democrat District Attorney Kamala Harris a virtual campaign contribution in the form of a full interview segment in the 8:30am half-hour as he billed her as the "Female Barack Obama." Harris, who was on to plug her new book, received the full star-treament as Lauer pressed if she had "ambitions for national office." Not surprisingly, the "rising political star" featured the segment all over her official Web site

The following teasers and full interview segment were aired on the October 29, "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: And coming up in this half hour, we're gonna meet a woman. Some are calling her "the female Barack Obama." Her name is Kamala Harris. She is a rising political star in California, has written a book on crime, and we're gonna talk, get her take on this, what she thinks we're doing wrong when it comes to fighting crime.


MEREDITH VIEIRA: Up next, a career crime-fighter on what we really need to do to keep our community safe.


MATT LAUER: Now to a woman named one of America's most powerful women by Newsweek magazine. As San Francisco's first female African-American and Indian-American district attorney, Kamala Harris has received praise for raising conviction rates against violent criminals while creating innovative programs to reduce crime and prevent repeat offenders. Now she's out with a new book called Smart On Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer. Kamala good morning.

KAMALA HARRIS: Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: Nice to have you here.

HARRIS: It's wonderful to be here.

LAUER: Crime is something we think about every single day, whether you've been directly impacted by it or indirectly. We pay for it every single day in this country.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

LAUER: And you think, in large part, we're going about fighting it wrong. Why?

HARRIS: Well, first of all, as a career prosecutor, I can tell you that there is no question in my mind or in anyone's mind, serious and violent crime? Lock ‘em up. We know that. And we know about serious and violent crime because it's on the front page of our paper every day and the leading story on the evening news.

LAUER: So you don't differ from anybody on that subject.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

LAUER: It's on non-violent crime where you differ.

HARRIS: Absolutely. If you look at crime, look at on a pyramid. On the top of the pyramid, serious and most violent crime. It's our priority, let's deal with it. But truly, it is the fewest number of crimes that are occupying so much space and so much money in our criminal justice system, and frankly, we cannot have a one size fits all approach. And that's why a lot of what I talk about in the book is let's bust the myths and get over, you know the idea, that for example, when we want to talk about criminal justice policy, we want tough talk and "lock ‘em up talk." Let's realize that the bulk of what we're dealing with is crime that is recidivist in nature. There's a revolving door around it and we've got to get smarter around cycling people out.

LAUER: You surprised some people by saying, "You know who we should target? We should take a hard look at elementary school truancy."

HARRIS: Absolutely.

LAUER: And other people say, "Wait a second. Let's go to high school truancy because they're most likely to get in trouble." You think, you say no, let's go to the elementary schools. Why?

HARRIS: Let me tell you, I have seen in my city and throughout this country where we have large number of elementary school students who are literally missing 60 to 80 days of a 180-day school year. And as far as I'm concerned, a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime and we need to treat it just as seriously as any other issue, because invariably, that kid will be the high school dropout, who will be the crime victim and the perpetrator.

LAUER: You started another program that's getting a lot of attention nationwide. You s tarted out there, but it's, it's being copied nationwide, called Back On Track.

HARRIS: Right.

LAUER: I'll paraphrase it. You jump in and correct me if I'm wrong.


LAUER: You get a young offender-


LAUER: -they've committed a drug offense. They don't go to jail, they go to a boot camp for a year. They plead guilty.

HARRIS: Right.

LAUER: They go through drug testing. They get a GED while they're in this program, and when they're finished with it, if they don't screw up, they get that felony conviction dropped, which allows them to go off and get a job easier.

HARRIS: And Back On Track, as an initiative, has proven over the course of four-and-a-half years to reduce the recidivism or re-offense rate for that population from 54 percent to less than 10 percent.

LAUER: But not a perfect program. And because you're running for attorney general and you're raising a lot of money, they're targeting you. And one of the things your critics have dug up is that there were some illegal immigrants involved in that prison-

HARRIS: Absolutely.

LAUER: -who got their felony convictions dropped because of it. How did that happen?

HARRIS: Well first of all, let me say this, some would say that innovation in government and innovation in law enforcement is an oxymoron. I would suggest to you, that's not true. But inherent in innovation means you're gonna try to do something as it's never been done, but based on the idea that you can actually improve the system. So I created Back on Track. Did I figure out every scenario, no? So, early on, we realized we hadn't safe-guarded for illegal immigrants being in the program. When we learned that, that happened, we fixed it. There you go.

LAUER: I mentioned in one of the teases for your segment, Kamala, that, that you have been called by some a female Barack Obama. Well, you dip your head there, and I'm wondering if that isn't a bit of a double-edged sword, because Barack Obama, for as popular as he was and continues to be, if you look at the polling we've done recently, it says they still give him, a lot of people still give him high marks on style and inspiration, but not such high marks when it comes to accomplishment, getting the job done. So are you worried about that comparison?

HARRIS: Well, I'll tell you, you now, as now second term as district attorney of San Francisco and as a career prosecutor, I know the power that I have as a prosecutor, and it is immense. And when we're in positions of leadership, I think we should do what, I mean, my prayer every night is that I will be judged based on a body of work and not the popularity of any one decision. And I applaud our president for taking on very difficult issues and not taking on these issues in pursuit of popularity, but actually thinking about what is in the best interests of our country.

LAUER: I mentioned you're running for attorney general. Do you have ambitions for national office?

HARRIS: No, you know, it's one step at a time, and I'm a career prosecutor. I really believe that California has the ability, as that old adage says, "So goes California, so goes the rest of the country," to do what I think is really necessary in terms of reform of our criminal justice system so that we're reducing crime in our communities and increasing public resources, and that's why I wrote the book Smart On Crime.

LAUER: You got it in there in the last sentence. Well done, Kamala Harris. Nice to see you. It's good to have you here.

HARRIS: Thank you, thank you.

LAUER: You can read an excerpt of from book that she just plugged shamelessly. It's called Smart On Crime, and it's on our Web site, TodayShow.com.