LP-Pres: Allegations from 2010 concerning RJ Harris’ past, and Harris’ response

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.

20 thoughts on “LP-Pres: Allegations from 2010 concerning RJ Harris’ past, and Harris’ response

  1. Jeremy C. Young Post author

    Now the editorial:

    Having looked over the Okie Pundit site, it is clear to me that this was a classic astroturfing operation run by anonymous supporters of Tom Cole’s campaign. When this post came out, Harris’ campaign had just scored 42% of the vote against Cole in a straw poll of Republican activists. Though Cole ultimately won the primary by a wide margin, he might well have been nervous about Harris’ campaign at this point in the cycle. Meanwhile, the fact that the anonymous proprietor of Okie Pundit sold the site to “a friend” soon after the 2010 election — and that the site died soon after that — is quite telling.

    I find Harris’ explanation of the name change and move persuasive. It doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with his bankruptcy in Arizona. I do think that some Libertarians will consider Harris’ failed business history as a significant bit of information about the candidate. Harris has explained why he remains proud of that history; LP delegates will have to judge for themselves whether they agree with him.

    Frankly, I think the majority of these charges are baseless and offensive. I don’t know who sent this story to IPR. I decided to run the story because I think it’s better for everyone that this gets ironed out now, not on the day of the convention when Harris can’t respond to the charges.

    I didn’t bother to contact the Harris campaign for a response because I felt they had already responded effectively to all the charges back in 2010. However, if the campaign would like to give an additional response, they can e-mail it to me.

  2. Jill Pyeatt

    Thanks, Jeremy. You certainly are a fine addition here as a writer on IPR.

    I think most Libertarians understand a business and/or mortgage failure. Many of us–perhaps most of us–have experienced financial failings in our lives. It happens to very good, and very smart people from time to time.

  3. RedPhillips

    I find Harris’ explanation entirely credible, but it also suggests some serious baggage with his mom and step-dad. (The explanation drips with anger in a situation [a public release designed to fend off charges] where it seems some effort to tone it down might be in order.) I don’t want to be nosy, but I would like to have some idea what the issue is. (Was he upset because he didn’t find out about it until later in life? His real father would have had to allow the adoption assuming he was officially listed as the father.) I just want to be sure that someone who wants to be President isn’t someone who can’t help but wear his aggrieved status on his sleeve.

    Also, it is entirely possible that he is sincere in his desire to re-embrace his Native American heritage, but it is hard not to wonder if the financial benefits of Native American status were also a motivating factor.

    And is he still a law student? Did his Native American status play any role in his admittance to a law school he wouldn’t have otherwise gotten in or did it help him with the costs of school in any way?

    Is he actively a law student? His website says a JD candidate and his Facebook says studying law at U of O. Is he taking a leave of absence? If he is still actively a student, is it appropriate/wise to run for President while still a student?

  4. RedPhillips

    “Harris is a third-year law student at U of O, but he will graduate before the LP convention.”

    Am I the only one who thinks that launching a national campaign for President while still in law school is unwise to say the least?

  5. Q2Q

    And this guy’s the supposed front-runner? He clearly lacks some credibility. Also, why would supporters GOP candidate for Congress try to astroturf an LP candidate in OK. OK isn’t a bastion of libertarian thought, so he wouldn’t do well anyway. The questions about his background and why he did what he did are troubling.

    Thank God I support Carl Person

  6. johncjackson

    @9,
    Supporters of the GOP candidate were attacking another GOP candidate challenger in the primary, not an LP candidate.

  7. Darryl W. Perry

    @9 – I asked that question… the answer I got wasn’t what I would consider a good reason.
    I just tried finding the email, however I wasn’t able to find it.
    Basically, Harris says that he ran in the GOP primary for Congress because the State Chair of the OKLP suggested it would be the best chance for a libertarian to get elected.

  8. Alan Pyeatt

    Did the LP have ballot status in Oklahoma in 2010? I don’t know, but since Oklahoma has some of the worst ballot access laws in the country, maybe that is why a Libertarian should run as a Republican there.

    I think Mr. Harris answered these questions about his past very well, and it’s good for us to have mixed-race people in prominent positions. Frankly, I’m much more concerned about whether he had anything to do with the hit-piece video about Gary Johnson.

  9. George Phillies

    @17
    Oklahoma has ballot access via filing fee for all posts other than President.

    It’s not expensive.

    The alternatives are to run as a Democrat or an Independent. The last of these leaves you in the race through the general election, rather than trying to win a primary.

    The party name ID is built in your ID and press coverage, not a name on a ballot paper that no one sees more than once and few remember.

    There’s no excuse for running as a Republican, unless you are a Republican, on which generally there is a record.

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