Metro Weekly

Heather Mizeur announces challenge to Congressman Andy Harris

Former lawmaker needs to prove she can raise money and build name recognition in a Republican-leaning district

Heather Mizeur – Photo by Todd Franson.

Former State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Co.), one of fewer than a dozen out LGBTQ lawmakers to be elected to political office in Maryland, has officially launched her campaign for Congress.

Mizeur, a former 2014 gubernatorial candidate who has since relocated with her wife to the couple’s farm in Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore, had previously made statements on Twitter implying she was intending to run against against U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R) in 2022 following the deadly riots that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Harris was one of 138 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying presidential election results from the state of Pennsylvania, and one of 121 who voted against certifying results from Arizona.

Critics of Harris and his fellow Republicans have accused them of promoting misinformation alleging that President Biden’s victory was due to voter fraud, and have alleged that such falsehoods fueled the anger of the crowd that attacked the Capitol.

“The events of January 6th have forever changed us,” Mizeur said in a video announcement kicking off the campaign. “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.

“Andy Harris’s actions on that day alone disqualify him from representing Maryland’s 1st District, but since that act of domestic terrorism, unbecoming conduct has continued to be his calling card.”

Mizeur noted that on the night that the election results were certified, Harris had an altercation with fellow U.S. Reps. Colin Allred (D-Texas) and Al Lawson (D-Fla.) over a speech given by U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) chastising Republicans.

According to The Washington Post, several lawmakers from both parties stepped in to try to break up the altercation, which some believed was about to devolve into a fistfight.

Last Thursday, Harris reportedly set off metal detectors when trying to enter the House chamber, with security officers finding him carrying a gun that was concealed by his suit coat. According to HuffPost, Harris tried to get another member to hold the gun for him so he could go vote, but that member, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) told Harris he didn’t have “a license” and refused to hold the weapon for him.

HuffPost overheard Harris complain that he had asked his staff to remind him about the metal detectors, which were installed following the Jan. 6 riot, but they hadn’t.

Mizeur has held up these examples in an attempt to portray Harris — known best by D.C. residents for adding “riders” to bills to punish D.C. residents for voting to decriminalize marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms —  as an extremist.

“These behaviors have stirred within me a conviction that we must present an alternative choice,” Mizeur said. “We deserve representation that reflects the very best qualities of who we are and where we are from. That is why, today, I am launching a campaign for Congress.

“I will work with you to spread a message of dignified, heart-centered, collaborative leadership, smart and innovative policy thinking, and inspired, connected communities undertaking the big challenges we face.”

Related: Mizeur Matters: Not content to “wait her turn,” the lesbian seeking Maryland’s top office hopes people power trumps political establishment

Mizeur previously served as a congressional staffer, including four years as domestic policy director for former U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), as well as a City Councilmember from Takoma Park.

She has cultivated a reputation as an unabashed progressive, but one who can work in a bipartisan way with fellow lawmakers, and who is not a verbal “bomb-thrower,” saying things merely for effect or to get a rise out of her political opponents. In 2017, she founded Soul Force Politics, a nonprofit whose mission is to bridge the divisions in American politics and civil life.

Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science and the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, says that Mizeur stands uniquely poised to run a competitive campaign against Harris, provided that the right conditions fall into place, including proving she can raise a significant amount of money, generate positive headlines, and get people interested in volunteering for her campaign.

“It’s fundraising. I think that, for Heather Mizeur, makes her a little bit different than some of the other Democratic candidates who have tried to challenge Andy Harris in the past couple of cycles,” says Kromer. “I think she really has the ability and the connections to raise some money. Now that, of course, remains to be seen. But she’s built a larger network through some of her advocacy work. She had a couple of famous friends, and has the ability, I think, to capture media attention, and all those things are sort of good if you want to if you want to build name recognition and get enough buzz out of your candidacy to get people to donate to it.

“If you just even look at the splash that she’s made already with her entrance into the race, she’s gotten picked up by every single news organization here in Maryland, and it’s gotten some Washington Post coverage,” notes Kromer. “For right now, in what’s considered a strong Republican district, that’s a big splash of coverage that none of the other candidates who are considering running in the First have received.”

Heather Mizeur – Photo by Todd Franson.

Kromer says that Mizeur is fairly well-liked in Democratic circles, something that helped her garner more than 100,000 votes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014.

She managed this despite having never been elected to statewide office, and entering the race as a significant underdog to then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and then-Attorney General Doug Gansler.

“The attention for Democrats is rarely focused on the 1st District, because it’s such a strong Republican district that it’s a heavy lift. But there is this moment in time where Andy Harris has gained some national negative attention,” says Kromer. “And Mizeur is coming into this race with local and state government experience. She’s made her home in and has lived on the Eastern Shore. She has a progressive record from when she represented Montgomery County in the legislature. So she has an ability, I think, to capture media attention, and perhaps that might help her ability to raise money.”

Because the district has been no-man’s land for Democrats for so long, there aren’t many establishment Democrats lining up to run for the seat, Kromer says, which allows Mizeur the opportunity to gather endorsements from some of her former colleagues in the legislature, as well as from progressive organizations.

“I don’t think you can question her progressive bona fides, but she also has an ability to speak across the ideological spectrum,” says Kromer. “She’s progressive, but she does it in a way where she’s not trying to alienate other voters. She might be somebody who can actually build a tent or build a coalition. That’s really important because in the 1st District, she’s going to have to do really well among independent voters to win.”

Kromer says redistricting will also play a significant role in determining Mizeur’s fate, although she could receive a significant boost if Democrats — who have veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly — draw the lines in a visually “cleaner” way while also bringing in significant numbers of Democratic-leaning voters.

“If the district can be drawn in a way that allows more Democrats into the district, while taking it out of some solidly red territory, it makes it a little bit more competitive in the general election,” says Kromer, “and then there’s an avenue for somebody like Mizeur to wage a real campaign.”

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