Born in Columbus, Harper spent her first nine months in foster care. She was eventually adopted and grew up in Berwick, a predominantly working-class, black Columbus neighborhood, and received financial aid to attend a local private school. Harper, who is black, would write later she “developed an intense commitment to fighting inequality after seeing how opportunities open up, no matter your upbringing, once you’re equipped with resources.”
She left Ohio for college: With more financial aid, she went to Tufts, then attended Princeton for a master’s in public affairs and Stanford for law school. She went on to become a senior official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose first permanent head, Richard Cordray, is a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and lost a bid for Ohio governor in 2018. Harper left the CFPB in February 2017 to take a job with Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national community development financial institution. This past December, she moved back home to Columbus.
Brandon Sharp is a senior adviser to the campaign.
During the 2010 tea party wave, Republicans won what was then a swing seat from freshman Democratic Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy. Republicans then gerrymandered the state, packing as many Democrats as they could into Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes most of Columbus, and giving the Republican incumbent a new, safer seat. Kilroy and Joyce Beatty both ran in the redrawn 3rd District in 2012, with Beatty coming out ahead in the primary, with 38 percent of the vote to Kilroy’s 35. She went on to easily win the general election.
` By the old rules of Democratic Party politics, Beatty has done everything right. She got into Ohio politics in 1999, taking over her husband’s seat in the state House, and steadily rose through the machine, becoming the first female Democratic House leader in the state’s history. During that time, the Ohio Democratic Party largely collapsed, with the state moving from purple to red, but Beatty continued to rise, becoming a top official at Ohio State University, and by the time she’d arrived in the U.S. House, her seat appeared to be hers for life.
But now Beatty, who is 69, is facing a primary challenge from Morgan Harper, a 36-year-old progressive who leapfrogged the usual path to a seat, threatening the fragile machinery constructed in Ohio to guide and constrain party politics. If the elected official toward the top of the ladder isn’t safe, all of a sudden the lower rungs start to seem less reliable. If the party machinery and its business allies can’t deliver a House seat to a loyal politician who has paid her dues, the rationale for the machine itself begins to evaporate.
Harper is running on her own, without any assistance from Justice Democrats or other national progressive groups. But back in Washington, incumbent Democrats privately suspect that Justice Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez are behind it.
Harper launched her campaign on July 1, her birthday, with a progressive platform that includes universal child care, tuition-free public college, Medicare for All, reparations, affordable housing, and a Green New Deal. Her website says she “care[s] about nothing more than ending economic segregation” and she’s “convinced we need a new generation of bold leadership in Congress” to ensure her story is not an anomaly.
Harper wasn’t recruited by local or national groups, and while her campaign has reached out to Justice Democrats, no decision on an endorsement has been made. Other local progressive groups like Yes We Can, Columbus Working Families and Democratic Socialists of America haven’t endorsed Harper, though are considering it.
Tammy Alsaada, a top organizer with the Columbus-based People's Justice Project, said that when Harper announced, political figures from around the city called to see what they could find out. “This was really surprising to a lot of folks,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls from folks saying, ‘Did I know this was happening?’”
Alsaada said that one of the group’s co-founders, Aramis Sundiata, was supporting the Harper campaign, but that she herself was taking a wait-and-see attitude and planned to meet with her soon. Neither Beatty nor Harper have been outspoken yet on policing, she said, which, along with community investment, is the issue she hears about most from the public.
But the progressive movement in Columbus has grown stronger over the last two years. Yes We Can continued to build its base and the Columbus DSA chapter significantly grew its membership, now claiming a much more robust electoral organizing component. The Columbus teachers union, under new leadership, has also been taking more vocal, progressive stances and recently threatened a strike. In 2017, the union took a vote of “no confidence” in the city’s seven-person Democratic school board.
The Harper campaign believes it can win by turning out 100,000 voters — which would be a significant increase in the number of votes cast in the district — through a volunteer-fueled ground game. Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District is more than one-third African American. As Harper recently noted, the median age in the district is 32, with many people moving into the city from other places. Already around 200 people have signed up to volunteer, and the local press has been closely following the campaign: a break from the traditional media blackout that often greets primary challengers in other districts. “We’re getting a lot more coverage of it than we expected,” Harper told The Intercept.
Where Ocasio-Cortez was on a shoestring budget until just weeks before the primary, Harper’s campaign expects to raise more than $250,000 this quarter.
The combination of her potential resources, connections, and progressive policy platform, which could activate a local grassroots army of support, makes Harper’s challenge highly credible. It also makes it all the more threatening to incumbents in Washington — not because it’s being driven by national agitators like Justice Democrats, but precisely because it isn’t.
December 10th, 2019 Today, Sunrise Movement announced a cluster of Congressional endorsements for Democratic candidates running in early 2020 March primaries. The endorsements span a range of political newcomers running on the Green New Deal, including Robert Emmons, Jr. (IL-01) and Marie Newman (IL-03) of Chicago, IL, Morgan Harper (OH-03) of Columbus, OH, and Mike Siegel (TX-10), whose district spans between Austin and Houston, TX. With the exception of Siegel — who is running to oust a Republican representative in a purple district — the candidates plan to unseat Democratic incumbents in blue districts. Though this announcement signifies the first bracket of Congressional endorsements, it comes after the separate endorsements of primary challenger, Democrat Jessica Cisneros of Texas’ 28th district, and Republican challenger, Democrat Audrey Denney of California’s 1st district.
“The scientists are telling us that 2020 is our last opportunity to elect climate leaders that can immediately enact bold, transformational action over the course of the next decade to save our planet. Meanwhile, establishment politicians of both parties are complacent. So I think that’s why we’re seeing this wave of candidates joining the urgent calls from young people in launching campaigns across the country boldly championing the Green New Deal. These candidates, such as the four we’re endorsing today, come from communities tired of political corruption and neglect, and vigilantly attuned to the linked climate and economic crises we are facing as a nation,” remarked Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement. “These insurgent campaigns are a clear indicator of the appetite for an entire new way of doing things, and a restructuring of our society under a populist agenda that guarantees things like living wage jobs, affordable and safe housing, universal clean air and water, and Medicare for All — all policies which we see bundled into the Green New Deal framework.”
Morgan Harper for Congress November 15 2019 It was during a Columbus DSA meeting before launch that I became convinced this was our moment. The foundation had been set to run a campaign that is uncompromising in putting working people 1st. Thank you for believing in us & standing up for the working class of Central Ohio
Liliana Rivera Baiman connection
Liliana Rivera Baiman for Columbus City Council · July 1 2019·
So proud of our sister in the movement Morgan! Thank you for stepping up and running for office! We need more people like you!
Liliana Rivera Baiman with Morgan Harper.
At a meeting on campus last week designed to set their goals for the year, they talked about labor organizing, volunteering for Morgan Harper’s congressional campaign and hosting a town hall-style event focused on climate change.
“It’s all related, even though they look like separate issues, ” said Daija Kidd, an African-American studies and sociology double major and co-chair of the Ohio State University Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter, as she tried to get the other members to think about new campaigns for the year.“We have these very specific events that we go to, like the climate strike,” she said. “But I want to do something that is ongoing, because that is the purpose of democratic socialists. I don’t want us to finish doing one big thing and have that be it — I want to keep it chugging along.”