Rep. Gregg Harper (R)
Mississippi 3rd District
Mississippi, old and new. The old Mississippi is the Neshoba County fair, held every August since 1889 in the town of Philadelphia. What started as a farmer’s picnic has become the traditional place where Mississippi politicians announce their candidacies, with the crowds watching to take their measure. The crowds are also there to watch the races on the state’s only legal horse track. When Republican Ronald Reagan stumped here in 1980 and Democrat Michael Dukakis campaigned here in 1988, neither of them mentioned what Philadelphia and Neshoba County are best known for nationally. There is no memorial, except engraved stones at two African-American churches, to mark the events of the summer of 1964, when three civil-rights workers, two white and one black, were murdered for the crime of urging black American citizens to register to vote. In June 2005, a jury of nine whites and three blacks convicted Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old preacher and sawmill operator, of manslaughter. He was sentenced to three life sentences. The new Mississippi is some 80 miles away, in Rankin and Madison counties east and north of Jackson, where subdivisions, shopping centers, and office complexes are sprouting up in the countryside, as well as the big Nissan plant operating in Canton since 2003, employing 5,000 workers. Even as other areas of the state were feeling the effects of the nationwide recession, Rankin County had the lowest unemployment rate in Mississippi.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Mississippi includes the Jackson suburbs in Rankin County and south Madison County, plus the affluent neighborhoods of northeast Jackson in Hinds County. It stretches north to Starkville, home of Mississippi State University, and south almost to Laurel. In the southwest, it reaches over to include Natchez, where 600 antebellum mansions and other properties with live oaks sit atop bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The small town of Macon was the scene in 2007 of a first-ever Justice Department lawsuit against a black Democratic Party official for discriminating against the voting rights of minority whites. In the middle of the district are Neshoba County and Meridian, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain was once a Navy flight instructor at Naval Air Station Meridian. The airfield is named for his grandfather. The district’s political tradition had been Democratic for many years, but its preference now is strongly Republican: Mississippi, old and new. In 2008, McCain had no problem winning the district, 61%-39%.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: June 1, 1956, Jackson .
Education: MS Col., B.S. 1978; U. of MS, J.D. 1981..
Family: Married (Sidney); 2 children.
Professional Career: Practicing atty.
The new congressman from the 3rd District is Gregg Harper, a Republican elected in 2008 to succeed the retiring Chip Pickering, also a Republican. Harper was born in Jackson, where his father was a petroleum engineer and his mother was a homemaker. The family moved frequently because of his father’s job, but always came back home to Mississippi. By the time he’d finished high school, Harper had attended 10 different schools. Harper became a Christian after attending a youth rally in high school, and later met his wife, Sidney, at a church function. They have a daughter, Maggie, and a son, Livingston, who suffers from a developmental disorder. Drawing on the challenges his family has faced, Harper promised to be an advocate for special-needs children in Congress.
|Gregg Harper (R)||213,171||(63%)||($1,143,197)|
|Joel Gill (D)||127,698||(37%)||($93,191)|
|Gregg Harper (R)||29,351||(57%)|
|Charlie Ross (R)||22,178||(43%)|
|Charlie Ross (R)||22,254||(33%)|
|Gregg Harper (R)||18,892||(28%)|
|David Landrum (R)||17,082||(26%)|
|John Rounsaville (R)||6,949||(10%)|
Harper is new to elected office but he has long experience in politics. He has been the chairman of the Rankin County Republican Party and has worked on several local and state campaigns. As a young man, he campaigned for Pickering’s father when he ran for the state Senate more than 30 years ago. Harper was a member of the state GOP executive committee and was a delegate to the 2000 and 2008 national Republican conventions. When the 2000 presidential election was in limbo and hinged on results in Florida, Harper volunteered as a legal observer for George W. Bush’s recount efforts. Until his election, he was the prosecuting attorney for the cities of Brandon and Richland.
He jumped into the primary contest for the House seat as soon as Pickering announced his retirement. Harper’s toughest Republican competitors were state Sen. Charlie Ross, considered the early favorite, and wealthy businessman David Landrum. On the Democratic side, popular former Rep. Ronnie Shows pondered a run but ultimately decided against it.
Ross shored up endorsements from local leaders and national groups such as the anti-tax Club for Growth, and both he and Landrum outspent Harper. But Harper rallied a hardworking core of young volunteers and family members, and focused on door-to-door campaigning. He also got one important endorsement, from former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who appeared at a January fundraiser for him. In the March 2008 primary, Ross emerged as the top vote-getter with 33%, and Harper finished second with 28%. Because no candidate won more than 50%, the contest went to a runoff in April. In the runoff campaign, Ross emphasized his military background and 11 years in the state Legislature as a contrast to Harper’s lack of legislative experience. Harper emphasized his conservative stances against abortion rights and same-sex marriage, in an appeal to the district’s small-town voters. Harper’s strategy worked, and the runoff results gave him 57% of the vote to Ross’s 43%. Ross narrowly edged Harper in pivotal Meridian and Lauderdale County by 128 votes, but Harper won 63%-37% in Ross’s native Rankin, the district’s largest county.
In the November general election, Harper faced Democrat Joel Gill, a rancher and a Pickens alderman. Gill ran folksy ads that referred to him as “Joel the Cattleman.” Still, a catchy ad was not enough in this Republican district, and Harper easily won with 63% of the vote.
In Washington, Harper promised to be a conservative vote in the model of Pickering, although he acknowledged it would be harder with Republicans in the minority. Harper was the only freshman elected to serve on the Republican Steering Committee, and was the only first-term lawmaker appointed to the House Administration Committee. Additionally, he got assignments on the Judiciary and Budget committees.