COMMENT

California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis on VP-elect and friend Kamala Harris

TOM ELLIS

TAGS: US Elections, Diaspora, Interview

It does not matter if Donald Trump concedes defeat or not, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis told Kathimerini in an interview. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won the election and in January they will take over the helm of the US administration and restore the country’s status as the leading world power, she says.

The daughter of prominent diaspora figure Angelo Tsakopoulos, Kounalakis knows the vice president-elect better than any other Greek American. The two have been friends for several years and have in the past supported each other’s candidacies.

Kounalakis, who served as the United States ambassador to Hungary from 2010 to 2013, describes Harris, who is still the senator for California, as a kind and friendly politician who is dedicated to those less fortunate, safeguarding the rule of law and improving universal access to healthcare.

What is the message of this election?

It is a historic moment for the United States. By a wide margin of the popular vote, and a decisive margin of the electoral college, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected the next president and vice president of the United States. Above all else, Donald Trump and his chaotic, anti-democratic policies and rhetoric were rejected by the American people, and he was voted out of the White House.

Will Trump concede, ever? Are you worried that the transition will not be as orderly as it usually is?

It doesn’t matter if Trump concedes. He has already proven that he is driven more by ego than by truth, and that’s part of the reason why he was voted out of office. The election will be ratified by the states, and Biden-Harris will be sworn in next January. It will be a beautiful day for the United States, and the world.

Can the result be overturned in the courts?

No.

What does the election of a woman, and an African American and Asian American at that, mean for the US, and beyond?

Certainly the election of Kamala as the first woman vice president in our country’s history is cause for great celebration. That she is an African American and Asian American, and the daughter of immigrants, is also cause for celebration – her story is the story of our great country.

How did you first meet Kamala Harris?

Kamala and I first met when she was district attorney for the city of San Francisco, where my husband and I live. A mutual friend introduced us and I remember him saying: “You two ladies have a lot in common. You should know each other!” From then, we would meet regularly to share experiences and support each other. When I decided to run for lieutenant governor, she was one of the first people I called. Her early endorsement of my campaign was instrumental – she was willing to put her name and network behind me, even though I’d never run for office before. With her help, I became the first woman elected lieutenant governor in our state’s history. During the VP selection process, I was proud to organize elected officials here in our state to speak up and advocate for her selection. It says a lot about President-elect Biden’s leadership to choose a powerful, confident woman to be his VP!

What is she like as a person?

Kamala is a lot of fun. She’s extremely kind and friendly. Of course, her life has been dedicated to public service, fighting for consumers and those less fortunate. But she brings joy to her work, and inspires purpose in those around her. That’s why she’s made so many dedicated friends along the way.

What are her priorities as a politician?

As a former attorney general of California, Kamala is dedicated to justice and rule of law. She also knows that institutionalized injustice exists in our country. As she has worked to uphold rule of law, she has also worked on reforms to fix the system as needed. American democracy is always a work in progress, and her work in this area is important – I believe it will be ongoing. Advocating for women, for children, and for all groups that have been marginalized or underrepresented is also a priority for her. That means better access to healthcare, housing and economic security is also a priority.

Has she any exposure to the Greek-American community?

The senator is a good friend of the Greek-American community of California, she’s had several Greek Americans on her staff over the years, and has had plenty of lamb chops with us! After she was elected to the US Senate, I was honored to connect her with members of our community in New York and Washington, and she’s made many friends and earned the respect of our national leaders.

What about her approach with respect to the behavior of Turkey, and toward Greece and Cyprus?

I am sure that VP-elect Harris will play an important role in supporting President-elect Joe Biden and the administration as they develop and implement US foreign policy in the region. In the Senate, she served on the Intelligence Committee. She is prepared for the challenges ahead as the Biden-Harris administration works to rebuild US leadership in the post-Trump world.

How important is it that six Greek Americans – John Sarbanes, Charlie Crist, Dina Titus, Chris Pappas, Gus Bilirakis and Nicole Malliotakis – were elected to the House?

The Greek-American community is well-represented by our bipartisan caucus in the US House of Representatives. The work they do together is incredibly important – from speaking out against the use of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, to advancing stability in the Mediterranean. Seeing our representation grow is something which should inspire every Greek American – especially our next generation of leaders.

If the Republicans keep the Senate, as it looks likely, how helpful is it that both Biden and Harris have experience in the chamber?

It is my hope that, as former senators, they will indeed be able to work across party lines to advance the well-being of the American people.

Who will take Kamala Harris’ seat in the Senate?

Governor Gavin Newsom will make that call. Whoever it is, it needs to be someone who can win re-election in two years. That means appointing a person who is already broadly supported by voters.

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