Sen. Kamala Harris takes part in a hearing. / Photo courtesy of Sen. Kamala Harris

One of the dumber storylines to emerge in the national discussion this week was the phony debate about whether Sen. Kamala Harris is too “ambitious” to be vice president.

This is idiotic on its face for many reasons, sexism chief among them. Joe Biden himself was an ambitious vice president. It’s made even stupider by the fact that Biden is quite old, and it’s therefore prudent that whoever shares a ticket with him is someone who could conceivably take over as president.

Put simply: Ambition isn’t bad, and treating it that way is painfully stupid.

But that’s not what’s bothered me so much about this conversation.

Last week, in a piece that set the stage for this discussion, Politico noted that Rep. Karen Bass, another VP contender, is a top choice in part because she “currently harbors little interest in seeking the White House herself.”

Bass was described in that same piece as someone who “repeatedly had to be dragged into taking risks” – a line that resonated deeply with me because it happens to describe the lion’s share of people who’ve succeeded in San Diego politics over the last eight years.

There are exceptions, of course – both parties have members who are transparently power-hungry. Yet consider some of our most prominent pols.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer declined to star in his own campaign commercials when he initially ran for mayor. He’s consistently led from behind on major issues throughout his tenure, even by his own admission. But he’s not considered unambitious – he’s consistently dangled as a potential contender for major statewide races.

Here’s how the Los Angeles Times assessed Toni Atkins’ tenure as Assembly speaker: “she doesn’t have adequate control of her caucus … she gave the members in her house so much autonomy that her leadership was undermined … she allowed important legislation to stall, including her own signature bill.” That style of leadership might not have led to her own top bill passing at the time, but it did lead to … Atkins climbing to the role of Senate president pro tem.

The Democrats who dominate the current City Council have a veto-proof supermajority but have done … what, exactly? Yet Georgette Gómez, the Council president, is in the midst of running for higher office.

So often, we view the hallmarks of ambition as being aggressive, proactive measures like taking a stand on a controversial issue or jockeying for a choice position or, heaven forbid, advocating for oneself.

And yet in reality, ambition often takes its shape in precisely the opposite way: paralysis, indecision, desperation not to piss off key players, fear of backlash.

Harris is accused of possessing the kind of ambition marked by having big dreams and the audacity to try to make them happen. But ambition just as often takes the form of preserving one’s own reputation at the expense of doing anything, ever.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Within hours of Lisa Halverstadt and Kate Nucci’s latest report laying out how MTS officers cite black riders for fare evasion and other offenses disproportionately, MTS’s police chief Manny Guaderrama – the architect of the agency’s enforcement crackdown – announced he’s stepping down.

In other policing news, I examined the many policies and procedures that have changed in the wake of a deadly 2015 police shooting of an unarmed man.


A new review of what went wrong with the city’s acquisition of 101 Ash St. found that an independent appraisal of the building never happened.


In the absence of clear state or federal guidelines, a partnership between San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified has allowed the two districts to drive education policy.

San Diego Unified is not leading the way, though, in exploring options for outdoor schooling.


Rules prohibiting visits to senior care facilities are taking a big toll on residents there.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“When you see a mom get tear-gassed, and they’re very clearly labeled a mom, they’re not starting trouble, they’re wearing high-waisted pants and trying to live their life.” – Amen to good trouble and high-wasted pants.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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