Prior to Sunday school on the morning of January 15 in the year of our Lord 2023, brethren at Green Chapel Missionary Baptist Church informed me Commissioner John Andrew Harris, Sr. died Saturday night. A long time kinship with Commissioner Harris (in our home phone speed-dial short list) prompted the first thing which came to mind; all the calls we exchanged these past decades. My bride would often get the phone and delight in John Andrew’s demeanor… either delightfully excited or solemnly serious but always purposeful. Closing our Sunday service, Minister Roland Austin once again displayed exemplary pastoral skills providing an ‘audible’ on the quick, eloquently imparting Commissioner Harris’s sense of purpose in his efforts following Jesus’ Path to God in keeping with the Holy Spirit and all the accompanying tribulation.
Harris’s long legacy of political service began in 1986. The first black elected to the Opelika City Council (along with George ‘Tootie’ Bandy) where he served for 8 years until elected to the Lee County Commission in 1994. Standing against corrupt minions relentlessly polluting Lee County into one of the worst in our State, his courage offered a small ray of hope. Harris being the only commissioner to stay clear of the mileage scandal was one of the more notable examples of John Andrew’s sound sense of right and wrong.
In memoriam, I’d like to see his legacy carry-on with what Harris was championing and working toward during his 2022 re-election campaign. Anyone familiar with John Andrew’s respect for keeping power in the hands of citizen voters and his deep understanding of the importance of representative government over the tired old rhetoric espoused by those continuing to take and concentrate power to themselves will not be surprised he was fighting for this till the end.
A draft resolution Commissioner Harris worked on and planned to submit is as follows:
STATE OF ALABAMA
RESOLUTION OF THE LEE COUNTY COMMISSION
WHEREAS, each County Commissioner of Lee County, Alabama has affirmed an Oath to the United States Constitution dutifully adhering to the Article 4, Section 4 guarantee of a “Republican Form of Government” and supportive of the Letter and Spirit set forth in Article 1, Section 2 that representation keep pace with enumeration of population after every federal census for the purpose of limiting concentration of political power over citizens; and
WHEREAS, the Lee County Commission has the legal, moral and ethical responsibility to protect citizens from government usurpation of power and promote the general welfare of Lee County citizens over special interest; and
WHEREAS, the Lee County Commission recognizes and fully supports efforts to maintain representation and strongly denounces anti-democratic efforts to hinder representation regulation as population changes; and
WHEREAS, Lee County real representation [population per commission District] steadily diminished during the County’s first century as population tripled with no adjustment, prompting the addition of one commission District circa 1970 to the current five district determination, and observation Lee County population has tripled yet again this past half-century with no adjustments, suffering faster decay in representation due to the static five district result; and
WHEREAS, the Lee County Commission recognizes the importance of Lee County citizens’ efforts to restore some of their lost representation, more specifically 1970 population was 61,268 - i.e., about one commissioner for every 12,000 residents yet current Lee County population is quickly approaching 180,000 without adjustment in number of commission districts, real representation has been reduced to one commissioner for every 35,000 residents who are seeking relief from ongoing loss of representation; and
WHEREAS, Lee County has exhibited widespread support from local organizations championing restoration of representation to have one Commission District for each block of 25,000 in population, including the East Alabama Republican Assembly, League of Women Voters, Lee County NAACP Branch 5038, Lee County Voters League; and
WHEREAS, it is also the duty of the Alabama Legislature with the Lee County Commission to adhere to the Letter and Spirit of their Oaths to the United States and Alabama Constitutions to promote sound public policy.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEE COUNTY COMMISSION
We fully support the Letter and Spirit of the United States Constitution and the protections it affords to all citizens of Lee County from concentrating political power as per the stated purpose from Section 35 of the Alabama State Constitution, “the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression,” championing our quality of life and public safety for all Lee County citizens;
We respectfully request the Alabama State Legislature consider the following text:
The number of Lee County Commission Districts shall not exceed one for every twenty-five Thousand, to be adjusted every decade after each federal census of Lee County population. Upon passage, the number of Lee County Commission Districts will increase to seven, subject to adjustment (increase/decrease) after each decade’s federal census enumeration of Lee County’s population.
DONE this Xth day of Januber, 202X.
Wanting to provide all comments/quotes received w.r.t. Commissioner Harris’s death, I ask forgiveness from those I’ve not included and pray readers appreciate the ones printed below under the space/time constraints. I’ll begin with wonderful correspondences from Commissioner Tony Langley [Dist. 4] who has the most difficult district to cover as representation continues to decay. Lee County voters wisely removed the incumbent in the 2022 primary. Newly elected Commissioner Langley wrote:
“In the short time I got to know Mr. John he was willing to help me during the election process and willing to help me get settled into office. The thing I will remember the most is his willingness to help others.”
What makes this quote endearing to anyone who truly knew John Andrew is undoubtedly forecasting Commissioner Harris would be this way till his last days - esp. those who recall he’d go anywhere (including the early T.E.A. Party meetings) to interact with those he found sincere. It reminded me of his efforts with Rep. Jeremy Gray (his opponent) on this fine young gentleman’s path into public service. Jeremy had to hit the ground running (a little differently from his star athlete days) with the Beauregard tornadoes. I asked Jeremy as the ‘rookie’ legislator from my House District to look to fellow good men in his Party like England and Harris; avoid politicians making corrupt deals with Felon Hubbard minions. I still think it was sound advice. Furthermore, I pray Jeremy is successful getting this legislation (dare I type The John Andrew Harris Rule in keeping with his legacy?) passed and be a template for other counties desiring restoration of representation.
Fellow long time Lee County Commission Watcher Peter R. Byrd said:
“John Andrew truly cared about people, all people regardless of race or creed. He took his job as commissioner seriously and supported all Lee County, putting himself in harm's way for folks not even in his district. He was not afraid to stand up for anyone who needed help, even though as a county commissioner, more often than not, he stood alone. He stood regardless of the consequences because he believed in justice and fairness and would not allow his voice to be muzzled by those in power. Many in Lee County may not realize it, but John Andrew shielded folks against the greedy and powerful. He was a kind soul and will be sorely missed.”
This is powerful coming from a long time witness of good and evil accomplished at Lee County Commission meetings. The only one I can think of better able to assess John Andrew’s service on the County Commission is Fred Woods who passed a few years ago. We were promised a resolution recognizing Woods’ service/reporting by the most corrupt commissioner and one of his biggest enablers - both removed by voters in the 2022 primary. Hard not to consider things of this sort would’ve been different with John Andrew on the commission those lost four years due to his AL House Dist. 83 run. When on the Commission, he made sure (via the Lee County Voters League he held dear) George Bandy was well remembered, I’m certain it would’ve been the same for Fred Woods who John Andrew held in high regard. One of many righteous things not done in Commissioner Harris’s absence those four years… given Gov. Ivey’s last two appointments to the Lee County Commission, it appears Lee County will once again suffer.
The final quote I’ll include is from Senator John Rice who remembered John Andrew well with:
“John Andrew Harris helped me win my 1982 AL House election and when he ran for office I did the same for him. We were both pulling for the underdog and we were both passionate about our hometown of Opelika. We worked hard on the issue of changing the form of government in 1984-85 to the system of Mayor/Council that we now have. The legislation that I drafted ended up passing with little to no dissent. Of course it is more complicated than that but John was a good emissary for his people, many of whom are mutual friends. John was Darden High kid and I was an Opelika High kid but we knew each other for years. Our political views were often opposite but our friendship allowed us to always have open dialogue. When I purchased WJHO radio in 1991, I always welcomed John, Clarence Harris and George Bandy on the air. A good deal of integration knowledge has gone with John Harris's passing and may he rest well in the arms of his Saviour.”
I thought it fitting to close with a quote from John Rice who has also been a tireless champion of representation and promote citizens’ directing outcomes instead corruption via skewed, concentrated political power. Rice has provided much help and verification on what to write and address in the courts, most notably the Lowder/Hubbard corruption I observed at AU. John Andrew was a similar ‘bellwether’ on where to look for things being hid/obfuscated; I’m still amazed he knew about Opelika’s Gig-City corruption before anyone else had the courage to tell me about Fuller, et al wrongdoings to expose. I also pray John Andrew is well received as a righteous example of fighting for some things, like keeping one’s soul intact, as much more important than mammon and political gain. How many times did we (OK, those who were actually paying attention) observe John Andrew make a stand against our most corrupt even though Commissioner Harris knew he wouldn’t stop the wrong?
We’ll see if passing the John Andrew Harris Rule is the close of this good man’s legacy and becomes a beacon for other counties to restore lost representation. Observing poor recognition of Fred Woods’ reporting to Pete Turnham’s accomplishments as a legislator and a WWII ‘Monument Man’ these past years; rational to forecast John Andrew will quickly be forgotten in Lee County. Nonetheless I evoke the ancient Greek saying for times of this sort, “Eonia imnemi” - i.e., may the memory of John Andrew Harris, Sr. be eternal though Jesus Christ this good Christian commissioner held dear and did well in his efforts to follow. In the Spirit of 2 Timothy 4:7, this servant of God indeed fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith who earned the words conveyed in Matthew 25:21, well done good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of thy Lord.