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Why Maryland Democrat Heather Mizeur decided to challenge Republican Rep. Andy Harris after Capitol siege | COMMENTARY

Heather Mizeur, then a Maryland state delegate, sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, finishing third. She announces her candidacy for Congress on Thursday, Jan. 28.
Heather Mizeur, then a Maryland state delegate, sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, finishing third. She announces her candidacy for Congress on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

After she lost the 2014 Maryland Democratic primary as a candidate for governor, Heather Mizeur, a former state delegate, said she did not intend to run for public office again. But as a resident of the 1st Congressional District, her representative is Republican Andy Harris, and his recent actions have pushed Mizeur to return to the campaign trail.

On Thursday, Mizeur, a 48-year-old liberal who lives on a 34-acre farm on the Eastern Shore, is expected to launch a campaign for the 2022 Democratic nomination to challenge Harris for the House seat he has held since 2011.

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The state’s only Republican in Congress, Harris is a Freedom Caucus conservative who wins elections easily in a gerrymandered district that runs from Ocean City to Carroll County. Heavily Republican, it is the only Maryland district that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, and Harris even eclipsed Trump’s popularity in November, winning 14,000 more votes than the now-former president did.

If Mizeur manages to get the Democratic nomination, her battle to unseat Harris will be uphill — even if the looming decennial redistricting makes the 1st District more politically balanced and competitive in 2022.

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Why is she taking this on?

The riotous storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, combined with Harris’ vote hours later to overturn electoral votes for President Joe Biden, prompted Mizeur to think about running. “I heard from many across the political spectrum that they are hungry for an alternative from the embarrassing spectacle they’ve seen play out over the last few weeks,” Mizeur says.

“Witnessing a treasonous insurrection against the citadel of our democracy, with the express encouragement of those bound by a constitutional oath to protect it, is an unforgivable betrayal,” Mizeur says in her first campaign video. “Andy Harris’s actions on that day alone disqualify him from representing Maryland’s 1st District.”

Harris, 64, was one of 147 Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to object to Biden’s electoral votes from Arizona or Pennsylvania, or both. Harris supported Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud in the November election and defended the former president’s phone call to pressure the Georgia secretary of state to flip election results in Trump’s favor.

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Harris also refused to vote on the articles of impeachment against Trump that were approved by the House on Jan. 13. A week later, Capitol police stopped Harris from entering the House chamber with a handgun.

He and Mizeur could not be more different.

An experienced Democratic Party activist and campaign strategist, Mizeur is a former Takoma Park City Council member who represented Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2017. She ran a well-regarded campaign before finishing third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014.

After moving to the farm in Chestertown, Mizeur then started a nonprofit called Soul Force Politics to promote bipartisanship and social change based on her deeply held spiritual beliefs. “I am certain,” she states on the organization’s website, “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.”

She expressed similar sentiments in announcing her campaign: “Our work is dedicated to healing and bridging the division that has worsened in our body politic, while teaching the ways we can bring an ethic of love into our civic engagement.”

While Maryland is a deeply blue state that Biden won by more than a million votes over Trump, Harris’ district, made up of the Eastern Shore, plus portions of Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties, is deeply red. It was the Democratic-controlled General Assembly that packed the district with Republican voters after the 2010 Census, maximizing Democrats’ chances in the state’s other seven congressional districts. The maps for all Maryland congressional districts are to be redrawn and in place for the 2022 elections.

“We don’t know where the lines will be drawn,” Mizeur says. “But anything that gets us to a place where we are more in line with how the district naturally occurs makes this a competitive race.”

The Maryland Democratic Party has called for Harris’s resignation because of his vote after the Capitol riot to decertify Biden’s electoral victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. And while others in the state have been critical of Harris, he claims that many constituents have thanked him for supporting Trump.

As a state senator from Baltimore County, Harris ran successfully for Congress in 2010. At the time, he pledged to be a six-term congressman. He said he was a believer in term limits and imposed one on himself, stating that he would serve no more than 12 years.

Two weeks ago, however, he announced that he would seek a seventh term in 2022, claiming that he needed to stay in office to fight “pushback from liberals and socialists.”

The Sun’s Jeff Barker reported that Harris’ campaign committee raised nearly $1.5 million during 2019 and most of 2020. The committee had about $1 million remaining as of Nov. 23, according to a summary filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

It’s not a given that Harris would be his party’s nominee in 2022. If Trump’s hold over the GOP fades, another more moderate Republican could emerge. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican who said he was embarrassed that Harris was “part of such an act of sedition” on Jan. 6, is considering running for the seat.

When she ran for governor, Mizeur made a point of avoiding negative campaigning. Should she emerge as the Democratic challenger, with Harris as her opponent, she promises the same.

“I’m running for something more than against someone,” she says. “I’m running to bring dignified, heart-centered and collaborative leadership to Congress along with smart and innovative policy thinking that will allow us to face big challenges together. You’re not going to hear two years of me making this about the current occupant of the seat.”

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