An Election, A Family, And Mark Harris’ Tears

Feb 25, 2019

I already had lots of opinions about the U.S. House election between Mark Harris and Dan McCready. What I didn’t expect to have was feelings.

But then – after all the talk about election fraud, and who knew about what and when – it suddenly turned into a family matter.

There was John Harris, Mark Harris’ son, taking the stand at a state Board of Elections hearing to testify against his dad.

John Harris had warned his father not to get mixed up with McCrae Dowless, the political operative in Bladen County who has shown quite a knack for getting absentee ballots to fall his candidate’s way. John Harris had run the numbers. He said Dowless’ work looked shady. He sent emails to his dad spelling out the ways he thought Dowless’ schemes were illegal.

John Harris was so troubled that he cut off contact with his dad back in December because he was worried about a conflict with his job – John Harris is an assistant U.S. attorney.

As his son finished testifying, Mark Harris wept.

But then he showed up at the hearing the next morning and tried to explain it all away. His son had, as Mark Harris put it, “a little taste of arrogance.”

But then Mark Harris was asked if he had told anyone that his son’s emails probably wouldn’t turn up in the hearing. Four times, he said no. Finally, his own lawyer stopped the hearing. They took a long break.  Mark Harris came back to admit that in fact, he had talked to his other son, Matthew, about that very thing.

Then Mark Harris said his recent illness had affected his memory, and he thought there should be a new election in the 9th District after all. Not long after that, the Board of Elections agreed.

So what do we make of Mark Harris now? I think the best possible spin you can put on it is that he exercised terrible judgment in hiring McCrae Dowless. That kind of judgment is not exactly a selling point for somebody who wants to be elected to Congress.

If you slide the skepticism all the way to the other end, you can easily believe that Harris was corrupt all along, and knew exactly what Dowless was up to, and used his illness as a way to bail out when the truth was becoming clear. That puts his time as pastor of First Baptist Church in a whole new light.

There’s going to be a new election for the 9th District, and I doubt Mark Harris is going to run, much less win. At some level, he brought this on himself.

But I find myself wondering exactly why he wept in that hearing room the other day. Was it love for his son, who told the truth despite the consequences? Was it despair at his dream sliding away? Or was it guilt at what he chose to become to get what he wanted?

What I know is that his legacy will never be the same, and neither will his family. And however you feel about Mark Harris, that’s worth grieving for.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.