We don’t know much about John Harris. We don’t know his politics — or even if he’s that interested in politics. We do know that he’s 29 years old, and that he is an assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina. And, of course, that his father is Mark Harris.
It’s that relationship that brought the son to a State Board of Elections hearing Wednesday to testify about the father’s 9th District election campaign. It was testimony that transformed the hearing — and perhaps even his father — but it also was notable for another reason. John Harris did something that’s hard to find in politics, this week or any other. He told the truth — not with glee and not with self-interest, but because it was the right, if hard, thing to do.
By now, you know the details, how Harris testified that he warned his father multiple times about political operative McCrae Dowless, whom the campaign hired to run an absentee ballot campaign in Bladen County. Dowless was on “thin ice,” John Harris remembered telling his father, contradicting Mark Harris’ previous statements that he’d never been warned about Dowless.
“I told him that collecting absentee ballots was a felony,” John Harris said, “and I would send him the statute that collecting ballots was a felony.” He did so, and he asked pointedly if his father would be comfortable with the methods Dowless used being broadcast in the media.
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“I was right, unfortunately, for all of us,” the son testified.
It clearly wasn’t easy testimony to provide, and maybe it shouldn’t be considered an extraordinary thing. But truth has become a malleable commodity in politics, something that’s shaped and pruned to fit the agenda of the day. So it has been with Mark Harris and other Republicans, particularly NCGOP officials who for weeks have tried to focus only on the pieces of the truth — legal votes — that would get Harris seated in Congress. That is, until Mark Harris called for a new election Thursday. Moments later, NCGOP chair Robin Hayes declared: “The people of North Carolina deserve nothing less than the full confidence and trust in the electoral system.”
Such whiplash reversals elicit little more than a shrug these days, from Raleigh to Washington. And if you think it’s only a Republican phenomenon, then the truth is eluding you, as well.
We wonder if John Harris was tempted to do the same Wednesday, to mold the truth and find a seam that would allow him both not to damage his career and not to hurt his father. Instead, he said what he knew, with a clarity and honesty that any father should want. It was the right, hard thing to do, and when the questioning was done, John Harris had a few final words for the hearing. He said he loved his mother and his father, and he said they’d made mistakes. He said that everyone, in both parties, has to come up with a way to transcend our partisan politics.
“We can all do a lot better than this,” he said.
This week, he did.