To Do the Right Thing

To Do the Right Thing

Sometimes people do the right thing even when it’s difficult.

North Carolina will hold a new election in face of the overwhelming evidence of corruption in last November’s congressional election. The decision came about at least in part because the son of one of the candidates said he warned his father about potential illegal activity if he hired a particular campaign operative to help him win the election. It is no small thing for a son or daughter to speak out against a parent. It is harder still, I imagine, to do so under the glare of court and camera. But it was the right thing to do.

When John Harris told the court that he had warned his father about the potential for illegal ballot harvesting, Mark Harris wept. It was heartbreaking to watch. The candidate Harris had not disclosed this early warning from his son, though a subpoena compelled him to do so. The younger Harris, an assistant U.S. Attorney, visibly struggled with his own emotions. He made a point of saying that he didn’t believe his father was guilty of wrongdoing, though the clear implication of his testimony was that his father knowingly hired a shady political operative to help him win the election at any cost.

Mark Harris campaigning in North Carolina

That shady operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, is a convicted felon, who seems to have a history of perpetrating ballot fraud in North Carolina elections. John Harris identified Dowless’s crime even before his father hired Dowless. That his father hired Dowless in spite of his son’s warnings tells you just how badly this man wanted to win the election and also that he knew his chances weren’t great in a fair and legal contest.

After his son testified and after new documents were uncovered proving Mark Harris had been warned about Dowless, he read a statement in court calling for a new election. It was a stunning and humiliating moment for the candidate and for the Republican party of North Carolina. But let’s be clear, this was not a partisan case. Dowless has worked for Democrats in the past. He’s an equal opportunity fraudster. The call for a new election was the right thing to do, though it came later than it should have. It came only after Harris knew he was caught, only after his own family members took to the stand to say they’d warned him. Harris, by the way, is a Baptist pastor, a self-proclaimed man of God.

In the midst of this political drama, the disgraced candidate said he loved his son, but “he’s a little judgmental with a taste of arrogance.” Let me tell you, John Harris is a better person than I am if he’s able to let that one go. His father basically tried to undermine his son’s advice and testimony by insulting him in front of the whole world. What sort of man does that to his own son?

I don’t know whether Mark Harris will be on the ballot in the new election. It’s hard to imagine he could win at this point. What voter could trust him to make ethical decisions, to respect the will of the people? I also don’t know what will happen to Dowless, the man who orchestrated the ballot fraud. I hope North Carolina brings charges against him. It could happen. Dowless refused to testify in the case unless he was granted immunity from prosecution. No immunity was given.

As for John Harris, the son who did the right thing, I suspect he’ll continue to live his life, raise his kids, do his job. But if North Carolina ever decides to elect a member of the Harris family to Congress, I hope they choose the younger Harris. He definitely seems like the better man.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER, a southern gothic novel steeped in local lore, is available now. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance deemed it an Okra Pick. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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