Pennsylvania House Representative Virtually Visits Dickinson Class

Jen Hughes '21, Guest Writer

For Pennsylvania state House Rep. Jordan Harris, a Philadelphia native, politics is personal. “I represent the hood that I grew up in, so this is different for me,” Harris said in an interview with students in Professor Amy Worden’s “Journalism in the 21st Century” class. “My constituents are my cousins, my mom, my uncles, the folks that watched me grow up. I have a different responsibility to them,” he added.

This unique reality and strong sense of community undergirds the important work that Harris has engaged in while representing Pennsylvania’s 186th state house district over the last eight years.

Harris is only the second African American to serve as House Democratic Whip, the second highest legislative leadership role behind the caucus leader. In addition to serving as a proud leader of his party, Harris has a long history of co-authoring bipartisan legislation.

Most notably, he spearheaded the Clean Slate Law alongside Republican Rep. Sheryl Delozier, a resident of Cumberland County, in 2018, which sealed the low-level criminal records of 35 million Pennsylvanians – amounting to a big step forward in the fight for criminal justice reform.

For Harris, these bipartisan efforts are part and parcel to his work as a representative. Oftentimes, lawmakers can claim they put up a good fight on the House floor even when they are unsuccessful in advancing legislation, and it suffices for them, Harris said. 

“When I get on that floor, it’s no longer about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about the people. Because my folks can’t afford for me not to be successful,” Harris said. Such bipartisan efforts are hard to come by in the current political climate marked by bitter party-line divisions.

Although Harris has always had a passion for politics, he began his career working as a public-school teacher in the Philadelphia school district. The experience taught him the importance of patience, working with others, and it also gave rise to his vision for educational reform, he said.

Prior to that, Harris gained insight into the workings of government as the intern to a state senator in his district. “I realized that with the right heart and desire, I could positively impact my community,” he said.

Harris approaches each legislative effort with the same commitment to producing tangible results for his constituents. According to Harris, a large portion of the work that went into drafting the Clean Slate Law included building consensus around a particular issue, such as the need to expunge the records of non-violent misdemeanor offenders.

In response to push back from either side of the aisle – those who urge this kind of legislation takes criminal justice in the wrong direction or those who argue that it doesn’t go far enough – Harris always brings the issue at hand back to those it affects most.

“I’m not going to stand in the way of getting help for these folks because I can’t get help for everybody,” Harris said.

Even after contracting COVID-19 last fall, which debilitated him, Harris was determined to fulfill his electoral duty in the presidential election. 

While recuperating from the coronavirus, Harris was put on oxygen for a few weeks. When the time came, he willed himself to make it in time to vote in the Electoral College on behalf of the millions of Pennsylvanian voters who voted for Biden. 

“I said to myself that I was not going to miss this opportunity to cast my vote for the first ever African American woman to be the Vice President of the United States,” Harris said. And indeed, despite the cacophony that often accompanies politics, Harris showed up on the appointed day and made sure the voice of the Biden voters in Pennsylvania was heard clearly.