Indiana’s 1st congressional district is a rare deep-blue territory in Mike Pence’s home state. Incumbent Democratic Congressman Pete Visclosky– retiring after 18 terms– won the district by 31 points in 2018. The primary on May 5 will decide whether the next representative from this district is a conservative, a lobbyist, an anti-impeachment former Republican, or a truly bold progressive.
Jim Harper is easily the most progressive of the candidates who are competitive in a race with 14 Democrats running. The first candidate to announce was Tom McDermott, the mayor of Hammond. In his first interview after announcing, he attacked the House Democrats for impeaching Trump. He has drawn attention for receiving a large fine for illegally moving campaign funds and only becoming a Democrat after being blocked from ballot access by the local Republican Party without supporting the broader Democratic Party. His first quarter campaign finance report was riddled with donations from corporate PACs and city contractors.
State Rep. Mara Candelaria-Reardon owns a lobbying firm, MCR Partners, that has represented her husband’s company, Maya Energy, whose projects include building a dump next to a school in Gary, which predominantly serves black children. She has also used her work as a legislator to support her consulting firm. A quick look through her campaign contributors shows a smorgasbord of pharmaceutical, oil, and tobacco companies along with their lobbyists. In her first federal campaign finance report, she listed donations from Republicans and a shady, conservative PAC.
Jim Harper’s platform shows that he is a true progressive is focused on the most important issues facing our country today: healthcare, climate crisis, attacks on unions, supporting public education, and stopping the chaos and corruption in Washington. Jim is the only viable candidate to support Medicare for All, and he has been vocal in his support for a Green New Deal.
Jim is not new to fighting for vulnerable people. Shortly after finishing law school at the top of his class at Georgetown University he helped found the Veterans Legal Advocacy group fighting on behalf of veterans for millions of dollars in compensation for service-related injuries. He also moved to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to work in one of the most underfunded and understaffed public defender’s offices in the country.
In 2018, Jim ran a long-shot bid for Secretary of State as a Democrat in deep-red Indiana. He dramatically outperformed expectations given to a generic Democrat and won large majorities in each of the three counties in the 1st Congressional District– Lake, Porter and LaPorte.
The Secretary of State’s office was important to Jim because he believes strongly in the right to vote and made the case for issues like vote by mail, longer polling times, and gerrymandering reform. His fight for voting rights didn’t stop with the election; Jim is currently pro bono co-counsel on a lawsuit against the state of Indiana to mandate a paper-trail verifying vote total on election day.
Blue America is endorsing Jim today and he was kind enough to pen a guest post– and make the video below– for us. Please consider contributing to his campaign by clicking on the Blue America 2020 thermometer above. Remember, this is a solid blue district and whomever wins the primary will be in Congress. We can help make sure that person is a for-real progressive who backs Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, criminal justice reform and a more equitable economy, rather than another corrupt Republican-lite careerist.
Bringing Bold Criminal Justice Reform to Indiana and D.C.
-by Jim Harper
After decades of a “tough on crime” mentality, the tide is finally beginning to turn against a prison-industrial complex that has torn apart millions of families, disproportionately impacted communities of colors, and cost taxpayers billions to the benefit of private prison companies. Criminal justice reforms have made significant strides, but much work remains to be done – particularly in Congress. To me, the issue is personal.
I have devoted much of my legal career to making our criminal justice system fairer. After graduating from law school and completing a federal judicial clerkship, I passed up a job at a big law firm and went to work at the New Orleans public defender’s office. It was not an easy job. In tatters immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the public defender’s office is notoriously underfunded and understaffed. I was also working within a jurisdiction that had the highest incarceration rate in the country (in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world). And, of course, the system was discriminatory. In a city that is 60% black, more than 90% of my clients were black.
I am proud to fight for my clients– both in Louisiana and now that I have returned home to Indiana– to get a fair shake in an unfair system. The story of one client will always stick with me. In 2012, I was honored to represent a young man who was arrested for looting, a crime that carried a mandatory minimum of imprisonment. My client professed his innocence, but more than anything he wanted to get out of jail. If the prosecutors had offered him a plea deal that included probation, I have little doubt that he would have taken it. But they insisted on incarceration and, unable to afford bond, my client sat in jail. It didn’t take long, however, for it to become clear that he was innocent. The prosecution’s main witness disputed telling police that my client was involved. And the description from other witnesses matched the identity of my client’s uncle, who was also in the area. Initially, neither the judge nor the prosecutor were swayed. My young client continued to sit in jail. In the end, it took more than six months before prosecutors finally dropped the case and allowed my innocent client’s release.
Cases like this are all too common. Every year, hundreds of Americans are exonerated (and, with exoneration efforts focusing on the most serious crimes, the number of wrongfully convicted is certainly much higher). Thousands more are arrested on baseless charges. And countless others– like another client, who was sentenced to twenty years for a couple of joints worth of marijuana– are sent to prison for unjust sentences. Despite having just 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 20% of the world’s prison population. That’s why, in Congress, I will fight for comprehensive criminal justice reform. To start, I will work to legalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty, and end private prisons. I will also sponsor and support legislation that reduces or eliminates mandatory minimums. And I will support dramatic increases in investment in reentry programs, so that former offenders are given the tools they need to succeed when they rejoin their communities.
I became a lawyer to fight for those who had no one else to fight for them, and I want to go to Congress to fight for everyone in my community, particularly those who have no other advocate.
Unlike my opponents– who have taken support from corporate PACs and shady Republican groups– our campaign rejects corporate PAC and dark-money donations. In addition to our grassroots fundraising efforts, we are investing heavily in our field operation, already canvassing heavily despite the winter weather in Northwest Indiana. But in order to fight for bold criminal justice reform– as well as other progressive policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal– we need your help. I hope you will join our campaign and help us make sure that this blue district is represented by a progressive Democrat.