Viewpoint

Former U.S. Rep. Pittenger: Mark Harris should move on

Mark Harris, Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional race, prepares to testifes during the fourth day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh.
Mark Harris, Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional race, prepares to testifes during the fourth day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh. tlong@newsobserver.com

As Chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum and as host of 14 counter-terrorism briefings for Parliamentarians throughout the world, I have been amazed at the awareness by Parliamentarians of the illicit political campaigning in the 9th Congressional District in 2018. We recently organized a Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum in Paris, hosted by the French National Assembly, with 223 participants from 43 countries. The topic of the Congressional election in the 9th District was raised in private conversations by numerous Parliamentarians and government officials. They had followed articles about NC-09 campaign corruption in newspapers throughout the world.

Let’s take a look at the history of this notorious debacle. During the 2016 NC-9 primary election, Republican candidate Todd Johnson hired political activist McCrae Dowless and “amazingly” garnered 98% of the votes in Bladen County in a primary against Mark Harris and me. While I prevailed throughout the district and won the primary, Todd Johnson “won” a very significant margin in Bladen County.

In 2018, the Bladen County Chair and multiple elected officials advised me about McCrae Dowless and his disreputable canvassing, but he “had never been caught.” I was told by multiple elected officials that in hiring McCrae Dowless, I would definitely win the county.by a significant margin. Dowless approached me following one of our campaign events and began explaining his absentee ballot program. After two to three minutes of his presentation i said “no thanks” and Dowless ran off like a startled deer. Soon, we learned that Dowless had been hired by Mark Harris, who subsequently won about 98% of the votes in the primary in Bladen County and also posted similar margins to win the general election.

Believing that Mark Harris knew nothing about the illicit campaigning of McCrae Dowless takes great faith, unless Harris never went to Bladen County or had any conversations with political activists or elected officials in Bladen County. Dowless was a well known political operator feared by everyone. The former Republican Bladen County Chair was going to lead my campaign in Bladen County but dropped me as he was managing another campaign using Dowless and did not want to make Dowless mad. Dowless was a feared “king maker” with his unscrupulous program.

I learned recently that Harris serves on the executive committee of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party and was seeking the opportunity of being appointed to the N.C. Senate seat previously held by Dan Bishop. I stayed quiet and did not respond to dozens of media inquiries during the Dowless-Harris investigation, as I did not want to contribute to a federal or state probe and affect the outcome. Harris should be relieved that the process did not reach him. However, I don’t believe he should try to whitewash his alignment with McCrae Dowless and pretend to be an innocent victim. Harris’ own son made it clear in testimony that his father had been warned. This is not a matter of naivety but of moral clarity and good judgment. For the good of the party and for North Carolina’s perception around the world, let’s hope Mark Harris moves on in his life.

Pittenger is a former U.S. Representive of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
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