The personal side of Kamala Harris that Deidre DeJear wishes more knew

The personal side of Kamala Harris that Deidre DeJear wishes more knew

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Deidre DeJear. Photo submitted

By Ty Rushing

July 10, 2024

Former Iowa gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear has been mentored by Vice President Kamala Harris for several years and led Harris’ Iowa campaign efforts.

Something Deidre DeJear wants people to know about Vice President Kamala Harris is that she loves to laugh and is surprisingly funny.

“She’s got the goofiest laugh, and [it is] as authentic as they get, she probably shouldn’t change it because it’s who she is,” DeJear said. “But she loves to joke, and she’ll find a way to smile. And yeah, it’s sobering, especially considering the work that she has to do, which is very, very serious.”

The two became acquainted in 2018 when DeJear was running for Iowa Secretary of State and visited California for an event being put on by The Links Inc.—a social service organization for Black women—to which both politicos belong.

DeJear and the late Des Moines activist and leader Terri Caldwell-Johnson were told that they would have 15 minutes to speak to Harris, then a US Senator, about DeJear’s secretary of state race. The trio wound up talking for nearly an hour.

“I had everything prepared to talk through my race and persuade her that it was worth her time and energy and investing her time and energy into me, and she politely asked me to put that away,” DeJear said. “The first thing she asked me was, ‘How was I doing,’ and she’s just been that invested individual every time we see each other.”

The two have maintained a professional and personal relationship since. DeJear was a pivotal part of Harris’ Iowa team when she ran for president in 2019. She has also worked with Harris and the White House on initiatives, including reproductive care and voting rights issues.

Still, DeJear is hesitant to attach a singular label to her relationship with the vice president.

“She’s a sensei, she’s a mentor, she’s a guiding light and an inspiration to not only me but to so many people across the country and even around the world,” DeJear said.

Another important note DeJear thinks people should know about Kamala Harris is she is a living, breathing patriot. 

“Most folks aren’t used to seeing a Black American carry the flag the way she does, and with everything in her, she loves this country, and she believes in democracy; where she is today is because aspects of democracy did its due,” DeJear said.

“She wants to ensure that other people have that path. She always said her mother [told her], ‘Kamala, you may be the first, but don’t be the last,’ and she means that. She wants to make sure that freedom is accessible to anybody and everyone in this country.”

Misconceptions

As someone who has seen the Vice President’s work up close, DeJear said it can be frustrating to see the media and social media narratives around Harris. The biggest misconception that she sees attached to Harris is that she doesn’t do anything, she is invisible to the public, and that her work holds no value.

“They are emphatically false,” DeJear said. “She has put her everything on the line to serve this country and has done a number of things to not only lift people up, to lift issues up to shed light on things that were in darkness.”

DeJear provided an example of the work Harris has done with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Biden-Harris administration has invested more than $11.4 billion into HBCUs, according to the White House.

DeJear also cited Harris’ effort to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage.

“Back in 2021, there were only three states that had postpartum Medicaid coverage in place, and so she lifted that up like no other and really motivated people to not only provide that care but to provide 12 [months] of care,” DeJear said. “Now there’s 46 states doing that.”

Harris has also led town halls on reproductive justice and education across the country, and was integral in the administration’s plans to relieve student loan debt. The administration’s initial forgiveness plan was blocked in the courts after lawsuits spearheaded by Republican-led states and conservative organizations, but other plans have successfully been implemented.

“She’s championed all the work around student loans,” DeJear said. “That was something that was really paramount to when she ran for president, and her and the President have worked very, very closely on loan forgiveness. So she’s doing quite a bit.”

DeJear said if media members can’t see the work Harris is doing, they are putting blinders on their eyes or simply don’t value her efforts. This is the opposite of what happens when they meet with real people to talk about the Vice President’s accomplishments.

“We see the audiences that she’s able to garner not just in size, but the thoughtfulness around those audiences and how they are so excited to see her everywhere she goes. She just blew the audience away at Essence Festival,” DeJear said.

 

Lessons from the VP

One of the earlier and most valuable lessons DeJear said she learned from Harris is self-care. DeJear said another mentor questioned if she was taking care of herself, but the message really hit home when Harris asked her the same thing a few weeks later at their initial meeting.

“Women who work in this space, they can feel it when other women aren’t. And at the time, I wasn’t taking care of myself the way that I should have been. So that is something that continues to stick with me,” DeJear said. 

DeJear also learned to trust her mentor’s judgment of people. When Harris dropped out of the 2019 presidential race, she told DeJear that she would back future President Joe Biden. DeJear met with Biden, but she really wanted the Democratic nominee to be a woman, so she was hesitant to endorse him.

“She said to me on the phone, ‘I’m supporting Biden, and we would love to have you on this team,’ and gave me more than two hints on which direction I should go, and I went a different route,” DeJear said.

DeJear instead chose to support US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who finished third in the Iowa Caucus and dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday. 

“Biden is often called ‘The Comeback Kid,’ and she was on the team of The Comeback Kid, and she believed in him in those moments,” DeJear said of Harris. “She believed that he was going to become the next president of the United States based on everything she knew about him. When we talk about tried and tested and consistent, she believed in him then, and she believes in him now.”

With pundits and even some Democrats questioning whether Biden should remain the nominee following a disastrous debate, DeJear still remembers when her mentor cautioned her against counting him out in what she called a “humbling lesson.”

“I ain’t going to make the same mistake twice. I’m on the Comeback Team because he didn’t just come back in this last race; this has been a part of his entire career, so I’m going to rock with him,” DeJear said. “She did then, and she’s doing it now.”

 

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

CATEGORIES: NATIONAL POLITICS
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