The news was jarring: Andy Harris, the incumbent Republican in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, is trying to do something that will be beneficial to the Chesapeake Bay and those who make a living harvesting the invasive blue catfish from its waters.
You thought I was going to say something else, right?
You thought I’d been jarred by news that Harris was part of a group of Republican lawmakers who met at the White House in December 2020 to discuss a plan to overturn Joe Biden’s election and keep Donald Trump in office.
That’s bad, but it didn’t surprise me the way his pledge this week to do something about the invasive blue catfish did. Let me explain why I found this revelation jarring.
Over 12 years, Harris has been generally ineffective as a congressman; there’s not much of a record there. Most of his House votes fall along the do-nothing/own-the-libs extreme Republican line.
Harris opposed the Affordable Care Act and voted numerous times for its repeal. Last year, he voted against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law in November. Only 13 House Republicans supported the measure despite the funding it provides for public works and climate-related projects in their districts, including Maryland’s 1st.
Harris voted against honoring the police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol against the Jan. 6 mob. In March, he voted against a national healing garden for victims of mass shootings and, in his efforts to out-snark other Republicans on the extreme right, he publicly mocked the idea.
It got worse this week. On the floor of the House Wednesday night, Harris voted against a bill to authorize an alert system for active shooters.
The legislation would give police and federal agents a way to notify specific communities of a shooting threat. We have amber alerts for children who are abducted and endangered; the new system will tell us when there’s gunfire in a public place.
The legislation passed, 260-169, with all seven of Maryland’s Democratic representatives in the majority. “This is a straightforward and common sense bill that will save lives, helping to prevent Marylanders from unknowingly walking into a dangerous situation,” Dutch Ruppersberger, the 2nd District incumbent, said in a news release after the vote.
Forty-three Republicans voted for the bill. But Andy Harris was a nay.
Who knows? I send questions to his taxpayer-funded office and never get a taxpayer-funded response.
So I follow the congressman’s social media comments and check his taxpayer-funded website for information. That’s how I found out that he’s trying to do something about the invasive blue catfish.
My column of July 7 was on this very subject: Maryland could have a much larger piece of the national market for blue catfish if Congress would change the law on its processing.
Several years ago, Republican senators from Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas managed to get their colleagues to require that catfish gutting and cleaning be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No other fish processing has this requirement. The law was intended to give catfish farmers and processors in the South a competitive edge against catfish imported from Asia. But it also gave the southerners an advantage over Chesapeake watermen and seafood wholesalers in our region.
The USDA inspection requirement limits the amount of catfish Chesapeake processors can handle and, thus, limits a catch that would be highly beneficial, economically and ecologically. Without the requirement, one longtime wholesaler told me, the annual Chesapeake harvest of blue catfish could quadruple from its present level.
A recent New York Times column about Andy Harris’ congressional district and one of his potential Democratic challengers, Dave Harden, addressed this issue. “Nitpicky government rules remain a potent and underappreciated source of populist anger against Democrats, especially in rural areas,” it said, failing to note that Republicans came up with the catfish regulation.
“The regulations in rural economies are ridiculous,” Harden, a candidate in this month’s primary, told the Times.
Rob Newberry, chair of the Delmarva Fisheries Association, was also quoted, saying regulations were putting watermen like him out of business. He said he’s supporting Harden for Congress because Harris had not spoken out against the catfish regulation.
Well, now. Ten days after the Times piece appeared and just five days after my catfish column, a news release showed up on Harris’ website about this very issue. It was jarring.
Here’s what it said:
“New language included at my request in the Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill will require the blue catfish inspection process be moved from USDA to a less burdensome but just as safe regime under the [Food and Drug Administration]. In doing this, we are eliminating unnecessary regulation and allowing easier commercial catch of blue catfish which would help control the growing population of this harmful species.”
Of course, it remains to be seen if Harris, a man of limited legislative accomplishment, can get the law changed in the House, much less the Senate. And it looks as if he’s responding to the Times report that a conservative and influential Eastern Shore waterman will support a Democrat this year.
Problem is, Andy Harris has spent so much time out on the political fringe, associating with Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republican wing nuts, supporting Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election and voting against common-sense legislation, that he has little credibility. The Marylanders of his district deserve better.