IPR has recently been made aware of a 2010 dispute between then-Congressional candidate RJ Harris and the now-defunct blog Okie Pundit, which was a vocal supporter of Harris’ opponent Tom Cole. Excerpts from Okie Pundit’s post and Harris’ response are included below. First, we should note that the following facts are not in dispute:
- Harris used to be named Jason Sam Barnes. Several years ago, he changed his name to RJ Harris.
- Harris used to be a resident of Arizona, but has since moved to Oklahoma.
- In 2000 and 2001, Harris opened two gaming stores in Gilbert, Arizona. Those stores closed in 2001, and Harris filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. By 2004, Harris had discharged all of his debts.
The following facts were disputed between Okie Pundit and Harris:
- Harris’ reason for changing his name, and
- Harris’ reason for moving to Oklahoma.
Here’s Okie Pundit’s take on those issues:
Okie Pundit has just received credible information that indicates RJ Harris, a Congressional candidate running against Republican Tom Cole, recently changed his name and moved to Oklahoma in order to conceal a mysterious personal history. …
But perhaps most troubling is Mr. Harris’s business dealings that indicate a striking lack of financial responsibility and business acumen. Harris has attacked his opponent for being fiscally irresponsible, so it will concern voters to learn of Harris’s disastrous fiscal history. …
Many families go through financial difficulties, but most don’t change their names and uproot their family to another state after doing so. So why would Harris change his name and the names of his children and then move his family to Oklahoma? Only Harris can say for sure, though the records indicate the multiple bankruptcies, home foreclosures, and tax liens, coupled with Harris’s political aspirations could explain it. …
Mr. Harris also had two homes foreclosed on and sold at public auction. On December 12, 2002, his home at 1091 Washington Avenue, Gilbert, Arizona was foreclosed on and sold to satisfy $139,885.71 in unpaid debt and costs. On December 3, 2008, Harris had another house foreclosed on and sold at public auction for $245,857.48.
In 2010, the Harris campaign responded to these allegations. I’m including Harris’ response below in its entirety, minus the two closing paragraphs.
Having completely defeated Cole on the issues, supporters of my opponent have decided to “dig for dirt” rather than win in the arena of ideas. Okie Pundit (OP), which openly supports Cole and has taken every opportunity to attack me personally, has now launched a new personal attack about my former name— Jason S. Barnes –and my status as a former resident of Arizona. As most of you already know my mother and father split up when I was very young and my mother settled in Arizona while my dad remained in Oklahoma; after traveling a bit due to being in the military. My mom took a new husband, had my name changed, and allowed my stepdad to adopt me. Later, I discovered what had been done…that I had been taken away from my real dad; my state and my tribe, the Kiowa, and I then took action to repair the damage thirty years in the making.
I am a native son of Oklahoma. My ancestors were both Boomer Sooners and Kiowa and neither my dad moving about due to his service in the military, nor my mother’s action to allow the erasure of my heritage, changes that fact. I have a certificate of live birth from March AFB, where my dad was stationed at the time, which proves that my name change was a change BACK to the birth name taken from me by my step father. I also have a Certificate of Indian Blood from the BIA in Anadarko which establishes my native heritage, and I have my father, who is a card-carrying member of the Kiowa Nation and the physician at the Indian Health Services clinic in Carnegie OK for our tribe, who can personally vouch for my Oklahoma and Kiowa heritage. As the final act of my reclamation of that heritage, I have petitioned the State of California to release my adoption records and my sealed birth certificate so that I can finally and fully “come home.” Having restored my name to that at my birth, it then became necessary for my wife and children to have their names changed as well. This is something Jennifer did with dignity and aplomb, and OP should be ashamed of itself for insinuating otherwise.
Growing up, I have lived back and forth between Arizona and Oklahoma and have always thought of them as my two homes. However, such was my horror upon discovering what had been done to me that I fixed everything about my recorded identity so as to restore that which had been taken from me, my dad, my tribe and my children. It is then absolutely despicable of OP to make an issue of such a massive personal tragedy over which I had no control of at the time it occurred.
It is not surprising at all that OP would try and make a connection between all of this and my failed Game Stores business— given their record of subpar reporting, analysis and research – except that I have never hid from that failure. I have openly stated on my Facebook page, as well as my biography on my main website, that my small chain of game stores did not survive the economic downturn of 2001 which was brought on by the attacks on 911. I included this, against advice from consultants, because I am proud of my attempt at achieving the American Dream of business ownership even if that venture did not turn out as successful as I had hoped. Of course OP wants you all to think that businesses failing are extraordinary occurrences when those of us that have had to sign a pay roll check and risk our entire personal fortunes on our small businesses know that it is a fact that businesses fail; even good ones.
Additionally, my personal Facebook page has my old name in parenthesis next to my original name so that my old classmates and Army buddies can find me on Facebook if they are looking for me, which is more proof that I am NOT hiding from any past, as OP claims, but am in fact reestablishing my birthright as RJ Harris just as I assert here.
Even worse of OP is its claim that I received some kind of bailout when the fact is that we repaid all of our vendors AND our tax debts. The biggest debts that were discharged, and the only reasons I had to file in the first place, were the un-paid leases on the business properties. The owners of those properties had those returned to them in good order and they were re-leased shortly thereafter.
One of the greatest things about the United States, and our capitalist system, is the opportunity for common people like me to work hard, take risks and rebound after a failure. This is nothing to hide from and nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, politicians like Cole would rather manipulate the system and bailout companies with public money than allow for the healthy restructuring that I and many other small business owners have had to go through. The re-allocation of capital through bankruptcy is a central piece of a free-market economy. Yes my business failed, yes I have had financial difficulties chasing my dreams just as have millions of other American entrepreneurs…but I never asked for or received any bailout. I took my lumps along with the rest and now I am happy to be fighting to restore our federalist system which will halt governmental manipulations of the markets and make it easier and more profitable for other small business owners to stay in business and for those who want to take their shot in the arena to do so.