The saga surrounding Rep. Justin Harris and his wife’s decision to abandon their adoptive children into the custody of a couple unvetted by local authorities continues to unfold since the story first broke early last week. Today between new reporting and various press conferences even more fuel has been added to the fire of the raging Harris controversy.
There are three main points I’d like to make in this post:
1) I don’t believe Rep. Harris’s ever-evolving version of events
2) Harris should face real consequences for his actions and resign from office.
3) Republican Party leaders have shamefully refused to take a moral stand.
There are many moving parts to the Harris story, but at the core of Justin Harris’s version of events told through several interviews, he would have us believe that he, a three-term State Representative, was cowed and bullied by the Department of Human Services and abandoned his adopted children because he had no other choice. I have a hard time believing that.
The Arkansas Times first broke the story and has written two in-depth follow-up articles quoting numerous witnesses that directly contradict Harris’s version of events. From reading the Times latest story it appears that it might have been that Harris attempted to bully DHS and not the other way around.
Rep. Harris, the vice-chair of the House Committee on Aging, Children & Youth, claimed in a Friday KARK interview that he has a record of holding DHS accountable. Yet, based on the Arkansas Times reporting, it appears the way Harris might have tried to hold DHS accountable was by threatening to hold up part of DHS’s budget if they didn’t let his family adopt the girls.
It seems to me this whole saga transpired because Harris and his wife self-righteously believed they knew better than anyone, but time and again it’s clear they did not. The results of this self-righteousness were tragic.
The Arkansas Times reports that the Harris’s were forewarned that the girls they wanted to adopt had severe psychological issues and that DHS attempted to persuade them to not take the kids.
But the Harris’s thought they knew better and adopted the girls, according to the report. And remember, Harris might have used his position as State Representative to force DHS to allow him to adopt the girls, according to the Arkansas Times article.
A basic principle we all would likely agree on is that when actions you take, or do not take, lead to the harming of a child at a bare minimum you should lose your job. Harris’s actions led to the horrible assault on a child.
This is not an issue of partisanship or wanting to give Democrats a shot at winning a House seat, it’s about doing what’s morally right.
If Harris resigns, there’s a 99.9% chance he’d be replaced by another Republican as he currently represents a safe GOP district. But at least Harris’s replacement would not have the shameful stain of child abandonment on his or her record.
Today in a press conference at the State Capitol, the House Democratic Caucus leader Eddie Armstrong said Justin Harris should “strongly consider” resigning from office and he urged Gov. Hutchinson and Speaker Jeremy Gillam, to persuade Harris to “remove” himself from the situation.
And in an unrelated press conference today, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said when asked he believed it was “premature” to make a final conclusion on Harris and he did not believe all the facts surrounding the Harris’s “rehoming” of their adoptive children were known. In short, Hutchinson did not call for Harris’s resignation.
If Harris doesn’t resign, he puts himself, his political party and the state Legislature as a whole in an awkward position.
One of these bills is certain to pass, which means the majority of the state Legislature will be on record as believing that what Harris did should be a felony punishable by time in jail.
Further, the state Legislature would essentially be stating by outlawing “rehoming” that what Harris did was a criminal offense, but he should not face any consequences for his actions. Even Harris has said he supports the legislation to make his actions a crime. That is a very awkward situation for everyone.
Finally, it’s shameful that no one in the Republican Party has publicly condemned Justin Harris for his actions. This story has provoked a public outcry both in Arkansas and nationally.
Yet the majority party in Arkansas and its Republican Governor have refused to take a stand on this issue. Republicans have refused to stand up for what is morally right: People who put children in harm’s way do not deserve to serve in the state Legislature.
In fact, Republicans seem perfectly fine with allowing Harris to stay in his office, even though he kicked his adoptive children to the curb when the going got tough and one of those children was sexually assaulted in the home of a couple Harris hand-picked to look after them.
How can the Republican Party, and its leaders, claim to be for family values, but continue to support an elected official who has a tragically warped sense of family values?
It’s time for Rep. Harris to finally do the honorable thing and resign immediately. It’s time for Republicans to stand up for what is morally right and demand Justin Harris’ resignation.