Earlier this week, Annapolis media outlets reported that you and the other six Democratic members from Maryland’s House delegation will host a fundraiser on March 16 for First District congressional candidate, and former Montgomery County state delegate, Heather Mizeur. The news that seven incumbent members of Congress would band together in an effort to handpick the colleague of their choice, even as this preferred candidate is in the midst of a highly contested Democratic primary, was startling to me and to political observers throughout our sprawling district.
To state the obvious, I share the desire of you and your colleagues to rid the United States Congress, and Maryland’s First Congressional District, of the stain of Andy Harris’ abiding presence in both. His behavior has brought severe disrepute to a congressional seat that has been held through the years by effective and principled public servants like C. Rogers Morton, Wayne Gilchrest and Frank Kratovil.
Andy Harris has consistently embarrassed the State of Maryland with his erratic personal behavior. He has also weakened the foundations of our democratic system through his embrace of far-right extremism, support of the January 6, 2021 insurrection against the United States government, and hospitality to the elements of white nationalism that have infected our political discourse.
In fact, it was his response to the terrifying events of January 6 – when he sided with the mob that was committed to overthrowing our democracy over the law enforcement officers who fought so valiantly to defend it – that inspired me to declare my candidacy for office. Having served for two decades as a U.S. diplomat, negotiating peaceful resolutions to conflict while safeguarding our vital national interests in many of the world’s most dangerous places, I have seen firsthand how actions such as these have led to the degradation and destruction of once-vibrant democracies.
In short, I get it.
That said, I would respectfully suggest that your highly irregular decision to intervene in the politics of Maryland’s First Congressional District, for the purpose of putting a heavy thumb on the scales of a competitive Democratic primary campaign, will not lead to the defeat of Andy Harris. If anything, decisions like this will quite possibly have the opposite effect. I offer this point for three reasons.
First, Maryland’s First Congressional District is, as a matter of enduring history and culture, a center-right district of fiercely independent temperament. Each round of redistricting reshuffles the metropolitan, or “Western Shore” composition of the district; over the past 40 years, the First has been reshaped to incorporate communities from Curtis Bay and Brooklyn Park to Cobb Island and Lexington Park.
However, the nine counties of Maryland’s Eastern Shore remain the permanent base and beating heart of this unique district. Even in the wake of growth, technology and globalization, the Shore largely remains a land of farmers, watermen, small communities, local business owners and families who appreciate its abundant open spaces and slower pace of life.
It is not the kind of place that needs or heeds the advice of Maryland’s Democratic political establishment when it comes down to Election Day. I would go so far as to say that, were Delegate Mizeur to win this primary and advance to the general, the fact that she was the handpicked candidate of the Washington insiders would prove a liability in a race where conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents will be critical to victory.
Second, while the candidate you have handpicked has political talent and is a prodigious fundraiser, she simply will not defeat Andy Harris in a general election in the First Congressional District. Her political brand and record, forged over more than a decade as a state and local representative from Takoma Park, is frankly incompatible with that of the Eastern Shore and even the metropolitan communities of the new First District.
One Maryland publication articulated the prevalent concern about Del. Mizeur’s campaign, citing the concerns of many that “Mizeur is out of step with most of the 1st District electorate, and that she is a ‘Takoma Park liberal’ who just happens to have moved to the Eastern Shore with her wife to start an herb farm,” while acknowledging that “Mizeur is a progressive and once represented the lefty haven in the legislature and is doubtless to the left of most 1st District voters — and a little uncomfortably New Age-y to boot.”
As Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report noted:
If [Democrats] nominate Heather Mizeur, then it’d be possible for Republicans to paint her not only as pretty far on the party’s left, but also as a carpetbagger who has no business representing the Eastern Shore.
To this point, Delegate Mizeur has described herself thusly:
Though my mother proclaims that I exited the womb ready to run for political office, my parents also swear that I am an alien from another galaxy because I arrived with such strong convictions that seemed ingrained from some other place and time. If so, I’m fairly sure that I arrived in a very cool blue and orange personal spacecraft and that justice was the main virtue on my home planet. I am equally certain that my soul’s contract in this lifetime is to advance the consciousness of unconditional love while taking up the fiery sword of a social justice warrior.
I’ve lived for most of my life within the current boundaries of the First District. Moreover, I’ve had the privilege of spending time with the working people, small businesses and families of these special communities for the past year. They are less concerned with Del. Mizeur’s galaxy of origin, or the aesthetics of her spacecraft, than with their ability to simultaneously put food on the table, gas in the tank and money in their college and retirement savings accounts at a time when wages are stagnant, and costs are out of control.
Even if the people of the First District were inclined to overlook such unconventional rhetoric, I believe they would be far less sanguine about Del. Mizeur’s record in the Maryland General Assembly. Where, among other things, she voted in lockstep with the rest of the Montgomery County delegation to raise gasoline, alcohol, individual income, business income and even computer services taxes. As someone who understands the urgency of ending Andy Harris’ career in public life, I believe it would be a catastrophic mistake and missed opportunity to nominate, as our standard-bearer, a candidate who has voted repeatedly to take money out of the pockets of consumers who are struggling simply to get by.
The Russian genocide within Ukraine will have profound geopolitical, humanitarian, national security and domestic economic consequences, which will be felt for decades to come. It is also a tragic and stark reminder that these are serious times that, accordingly, demand a renewed seriousness of purpose from the Congress of the United States.
In spite of our momentary political differences, I am deeply proud of the leadership that you and our fellow Democratic representatives have demonstrated on the national stage. At a time when American resolve is being tested, both externally and internally, you and your colleagues have risen to the occasion and have done right by our state. I would respectfully suggest that your next colleague from the First District must come to office with a complementary approach – one that blends a due spirit of humility, a willingness to listen and learn, and a true appreciation of what is truly at stake.
Finally, I was struck by the fact that the location of this exclusive fundraiser was not, and evidently will not be disclosed to the public. Instead, according to news accounts, “donors will be told where the reception is after RSVP’ing that they plan to go.”
Put bluntly, Leader Hoyer, this is a very bad look.
At a time when folks are understandably angry at the corrosive influence of corporate contributions and dark money over our political system, and feel as if our leaders operate at the behest of their large donors and not of those who they were elected to serve, it is simply inappropriate for duly elected members of Congress to raise money for their anointed candidate behind a curtain of secrecy.
The residents of your respective districts, as well as those of the First District, have every right to know who is writing checks to Delegate Mizeur’s campaign, the interests they represent, and the basis of their support for her campaign. To that end, I would encourage you and your colleagues to disclose where this event will be held and to invite members of the press to attend should they wish to do so.
In closing, Leader Hoyer, I would like to reiterate my gratitude for your service and that of your colleagues. Furthermore, I recognize that my assessment of the First District race is less than objective, colored as it is by a hard-fought campaign. The people of the First District will have a choice this summer between two accomplished candidates with distinctly different approaches to politics and public service, but who share a desire to restore honor and integrity to a seat that has been tarnished by Andy Harris. I would simply ask that, for the reasons cited above, you and your colleagues consider canceling this ill-advised fundraiser and simply allow the people of the First Congressional District to make the right choice for their communities, our state and the country.
David Harden is a candidate for Congress First District of Maryland