URBANA-CHAMPAIGN — Last June, former Miss America Erika Harold put her $300,000, one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago up for sell, left a prestigious attorney job with a law firm in the city, and then moved back to where she was born and raised in Champaign County Illinois.
Shortly after her return to Urbana, Ill., Harold, a conservative Republican, announced her candidacy for Illinois’ 13th Congressional District that includes 14 counties. The 13th District seat is currently held by incumbent Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.
Significantly, should Harold survive the Primary and the General Election, Miss America of 2003, would be thrust into political history. Harold, who has publicly said she was a victim of bullying during her youth, has a shot at becoming the first Black female Republican elected to Congress.
Davis was chosen over Harold in a closed-door meeting in May 2012. The selection was made by the majority of the Republican 14-person board for the district after long-time Congressman Tim Johnson announced he was retiring from the public office. While running for the office of president, Barack Obama won the district in 2008 and 2012.
Davis barely beat Democrat David Gill with 1,002 votes in the November election of 2012. Nationally; the Illinois 13th District is considered by many political insiders, including MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, as to be “vulnerable seat” during this election cycle.
Regardless of who wins the Republican primary on March 18 — Harold, Davis, or third challenger Michael Firsching — the victor could face a strong candidate on the Democrat side in November’s General Election. Democrat and former judge Ann Callis may be that opposition in November.
The OBSERVER talked to Ms. Harold about her political ambitions, why she is running for the 13th District, what type of representation the voters in the district want, the state of the GOP, and what’s life been like since she won the Miss America title.
Here’s how the conversation progressed.
OBSERVER: It appears that you have a promising and great career as an officer of the courts. Why are you running for public office?
E. HAROLD: “I’m running because I believe that serving in the United States Congress, first and foremost, is about serving as a vigorous representative for the people of your district. Often times in Washington right now, I see people representing special interests and representing all sorts of interests that have very little to do with the real daily lives of the people who lives within the District. Since I was born and raised in Champaign County, which is one of the largest counties in the District, I have a real passion to make sure that the voices of the people of the 13th District are well represented in the halls of Congress.”
“I also have a desire to see that the Republican Party reflects the diversity of the District. I’ve been involved in the outreach activities for the RNC (Republican National Committee) during the past several years. But felt that the best way to really ensure the party reflects the diversity of our country and of our District is to actually run myself. Hopefully, I can earn a seat in Congress so that I can actually make certain that our party begins to reflect the diversity that is a part of our District and country.”
OBSERVER: The Republican Party has been constantly criticized for its handling of immigration, new voter’s identification laws, women’s status in the country, and racial issues. What is your assessment of the GOP?
E. HAROLD: “I think right now that there’s a debate going on in our party, in terms of more established Republicans, who have spent a lot of time in politics and in Washington. I think they are becoming disconnected from the average person in their districts. I also think that there are a lot of people who very much want to see that changed. They will put women in government that believe in conservatives principles, but also want make sure that it is the people’s voice that are represented. They want to ensure that, ‘We The People,’ concept is at the center of what we do as Republicans.
OBSERVER: Why did you choose to represent the Republican Party?
E. HAROLD: “I am a Republican because I believe in the concepts of women in government, using the U.S. Constitution for the starting point of all policy making, protecting individual freedoms and liberties, and entrusting the individual with more power. I am a Republican because I believe strongly in those core principles.”
OBSERVER: You sought the 13th Congressional District seat before in 2012. But the Republican 14-county chairmen for the district sided with Rodney Davis. Why did you decide to run again for Congress?
E. HAROLD: “The last time when I was seeking the nomination we were not able to run in the primary where the voters would decide it. The person who had originally won that primary was a member of Congress, but after winning, decided not to seek reelection. It fell to the 14-county chairmen of the counties that comprise the 13th District to appoint someone to that nomination. From what I was told, I fell short of one county chairman’s vote. So this time around, when there’s the opportunity to actually make a case to the voters, I thought that’s the primary we should have been able to wage the last time. This provides the opportunities for each of us (Harold, Davis, and Firsching) to make the case to the Republican primary voters as to why we would be the best representatives of their values going forward. And why we would be the strongest candidate for the general election come November.”
OBSERVER: Mr. Bob Harold, your father, said you bought a car the day after you announced your bid for Congress last June. Have you accumulated a lot of miles since then?
E. HAROLD: “Yes, that is correct. I bought a vehicle because you cannot campaign in a district this size without have a good working vehicle. I think we’ve put 13,000 miles on it in just four months. So my guess is that we’ll probably top out at 30,000 miles come Election Day in March (March 18).”
OBSERVER: What are the people in the 13th Congressional District telling Erika Harold?
E. HAROLD: “First and most important, the people want representatives to tell them where they stand on the issues, go to Washington, D.C., and to stand up for those principles they conveyed upon. The people also seem to be comfortable, even if they disagree with you, if you can at least tell them where you stand and why. So often in our political process right now, people seem to avoid to say where they stand or what’s their actual position. It leaves the voters greatly frustrated because they don’t have a real sense of who they are sending to Washington or what that person is going to do once they get there. I think people want that sense of ‘who are you, what values are important to you, and will you actually go to represent those values if I send you to Washington, D.C.’
“I think the other thing that I’m hearing is that people are greatly frustrated with the current lawmakers in Washington, D.C. I think (the frustration) crosses party lines. There’s a sense of cynicism, frustration…and I actually think it borders on anger. This is what the people are saying. Especially, during the government shutdown in October. Regardless of where people stood on the Affordable Care Act, people were upset with Washington and the members of Congress spending so much time talking on television and not spending time trying to resolve the issues.”
OBSERVER: A disturbing email about your run for Congress surfaced from a supporter of your Republican adversary who currently holds the 13th District seat. In the correspondence you were referred to as a “love child” and “street walker.” Rep. Rodney Davis disavowed the email and the person who wrote it eventually resigned as a Republican chairman in the district. How did you react to the email?
E. HAROLD: “When I heard about the email I didn’t believe it was authentic because the language was so inflammatory. The individual that sent the email confirmed in the newspaper that he indeed was the individual that sent it. I just thought that there is no place in our political discourse or society for language like that. It’s not the kind of language that will enable our party to be well-positioned to engage new voters.”
“I just continued to be focused on the voters and continue to understand their concerns. I am focused on developing my team of grassroots volunteers to help me mobilize and get out the vote in March.”
OBSERVER: It’s been more than a decade since you were crowned Miss America. How has your life been since relinquishing the crown?
E. HAROLD: “To be Miss America was an incredible honor. It allowed me to graduate from Harvard Law debt-free. At the time I was accepted to law school and didn’t have the means to pay for it, I decided to enter the pageant, and had hope to earn the scholarship money necessary to pay for it. Being Miss America enabled me to achieve the educational goals that I set. It also gave me the opportunity to serve in a leadership role at a very young age. Often times, young women do not have access to leadership position at an early point in life. Unless you are in the entertainment field, you don’t have the ability or the platform to talk about the issues of concern. When you get that opportunity and start to view yourself as a leader at an early point in time, I think it serves as a great motivating force to try to be a leader in other aspects of life. Being
Miss America has been a great experience both to accomplish some of the goals I set for myself educationally and personally. It has also given me a sense of motivation that I can use life in the future to make a positive impact upon my community.”
OBSERVER: You’ve said that you were bullied as a child. Did the experience make you stronger?
E. HAROLD: “To be a victim of bullying and harassment, while it was challenging time in my life, it also forced me to define myself on my own terms at an early age. I think being in a position where I had to decide, ‘Am I the person that other people are trying to label me as or am I going to be the person that I aspire to be?’ Having to make the decision at an early age helped me enforce a strong sense of identity.”
“Also, going into schools as Miss America and sharing with young people that experience I think it made an impact on their lives because they understood that I was not someone whose life had always been perfect. I understood just like them what it was like to be marginalized and made to feel insignificant. That experience and that passion are something I want to take to Washington, D.C. because I know what it is like to feel powerless and to feel as if you don’t have a voice. I also know how it is for those who have power and are in a position to stand up for people that don’t have a voice.”
OBSERVER: Should you become the representative of the 13th Congressional District what would be the first thing that you would try to do?
E. HAROLD: “From a philosophical perspective, one of the things that I would do is emphasize the respect of the Constitution and look to see the way in which policy is made. First and foremost, we have to have loyalty of the Constitution and respect for the Bill of Rights. I think that would shape the kind of lawmaker that I hope to be.”
“I would also look to see how we could reduce the national debt. Our national debt is expanding and has implications, not just from an economic perspective, but from also a foreign policy perspective, because we are not in a strong position as we need to be in when we owe so much debt to other countries. I think we need to be extremely serious at working on the national debt and working on what are the drivers of that debt. It’s important because those issues can strain what we can do in so many different areas that are important to our country when we look at education and at the other programs. If we don’t get our debt and spending under control we are not going to be in a position to set goals and long-term strategies for our country that enable us to continue to move productively and efficiently in the future.”
OBSERVER: What are your chances of winning the primary right now?
E. HAROLD: “I feel great where I stand. I think when television commercials and bills start to become more a present part of people’s lives the voters are really going to focus on this race. I think I will be in a great position to make a case to voters where I would be the strongest advocate for them in Congress and be the strongest representative to go against the Democrats in November. I ultimately hope to show that I will be the person that can restore the confidence that people should have in their government. I believe there has been an erosion of trust and I’m aim to work at earning that trust back bit by bit.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of a two-part series on former Miss America Erika Harold and her quest to be an U.S. Congresswoman. The first story appeared on www.sacobserver.com on Feb. 13, 2014.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer