SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democrat Kamala Harris was sworn in as attorney general on Monday, becoming the first woman and first minority to hold California's top law enforcement office.
Harris, 46, is the daughter of a father from Jamaica and mother from India. She defeated Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley in a tight race in November.
She waited four weeks to claim victory in a race decided by seven-tenths of a percentage point, or 70,000 of the roughly 10 million votes cast.
Her inauguration drew a diverse, standing-room-only crowd that spilled from the courtyard of the California Museum for History, Women and The Arts into a neighboring auditorium. Onlookers crowded balconies and watched from windows as a traditional Indian dancer opened the ceremony and a gospel singer led a hand-clapping spiritual to close.
She told hundreds of supporters that she will be an innovator who will be smart on crime as well as tough on crime.
She said she will work to reform an overcrowded, costly prison system in which seven of 10 parolees are quickly sent back behind bars. A good starting place is with female inmates, she said, because 60 percent are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes and two-thirds are mothers who have an extra incentive to turn their lives around.
About 10,000 of California's 163,000 adult inmates are women.
California should come down hard on violent offenders while finding alternative punishments for those who commit property and other crimes, she said.
Harris promised to fight for the civil rights of every Californian, which includes allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
Phyllis Marshall of Sacramento, who attended law school with Harris, took her 18-year-old daughter to witness what she called an historic event. She said Harris' election shows people do not have to give up their convictions to be successful.
"You can do the right thing, and people will respond," she said.