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Andy Harris and the disappearance of decency in politics | COMMENTARY

Congressman Andy Harris, left, talks with David Brauning Jr., chair of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, during the opening of their headquarters located in Finksburg, on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Congressman Andy Harris, left, talks with David Brauning Jr., chair of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, during the opening of their headquarters located in Finksburg, on Saturday, Sept. 12. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Everyone would like to believe that they are fundamentally decent, yet it feels like decency is in short supply these days. So short we can only afford to extend it to those close to us, or worse, those who share our politics.

That we believe different things, take different approaches, join different political parties or just generally disagree is not new. It is how we disagree and the lack of decency when we do that has become a pattern, and one we must change.

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Many politicians have long exhibited behaviors that the rest of us learned were wrong in kindergarten. Unfortunately, it seems as though politics is bleeding further into our lives, and we’re seeing decency seep away as a result. There are politicians who will take a position they don’t believe in just to gain an advantage over an opponent. And now regular folks are doing and saying things not because they are genuinely held beliefs but just to “trigger snowflakes” or “resist Trump."

Like it or not, politicians are our leaders, and as they continue to lose touch with common decency they are dragging us down with them. Even if you’re not a big believer in the basic standards of decency, a case could be made that petty and vindictive attacks on anyone not on your political team are at the very least a waste of time.

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“Think globally, act locally” remains a great way to figure out a plan to solve an intimidatingly big problem. In our case, that problem is the fact that common decency has flown out the window, and many consider it reasonable to say and do nasty things to people who take a different political position than they do. Acting locally, we must demand that our elected leaders lead by reflecting and promoting our most basic values — not a position on immigration or the economy, but the fact that we should treat each other kindly and negotiate respectfully and in good faith when we disagree in order to find workable solutions.

With this in mind, our representative for Maryland’s First Congressional District, Andy Harris, is a prime example of a politician lacking decency. What we ask of someone elected to such an important post is to reflect the ideals we all hold dear, regardless of political affiliation — basic human decency and a commitment to the ideals of American democracy. Yet Rep. Harris has gone unnoticed for much of his tenure in Congress, and he likes it that way. He rarely holds town hall meetings for his constituents and routinely votes in the most baffling ways imaginable.

In recent years, Mr. Harris voted:

  • “No” on funding for the ongoing health expenses of 9/11 first responders. The House passed this in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 402-12.
  • “No” on recognizing the mass extermination and relocation of 1.5 million human beings during the Armenian Genocide. The House passed this 405-11.
  • “Yes” on repealing the Clean Water Act ensuring Chesapeake Bay revitalization, which runs through the heart of his district.

An American congressman voting against the interests of 9/11 first responders should be unimaginable. An American congressman unwilling to acknowledge ethnic cleansing ought to be inconceivable. And a congressman from Maryland voting against the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay should be laughable. These are not partisan issues. These are not morally complex ideas. Yet Rep. Harris has placed his congressional district on the record as standing in opposition to these entirely uncontroversial and fundamentally decent positions. We deserve better.

Our fundamental nature is to cherish and celebrate all that unites us as Americans. In fact, getting us to focus on those issues that divide us has largely stemmed from political parties and cable news doing so to garner votes and viewers. Rep. Harris has lost sight of decency and is relying on and promoting unproductive “us vs. them” thinking to remain in office.

We should insist on ethical leadership regardless of party affiliation. We should insist on respectful treatment of and negotiation with those who disagree with us politically. We should insist on support for non-partisan issues of common purpose. We should insist on decency for District 1.

Dean Ford, Mary Turos and Pat Muth are co-founders of Decency For District 1. The group’s Twitter address is @Decency4MD1.

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