For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.
But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.
By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.
Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.
In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.
Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.
It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.
Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.
In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:
- “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.'”
- “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those? I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”
These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.
On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.
Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.
No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.