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District 30 congressional candidate arrested in Grand Prairie for taking politicians’ signs

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

James Frank Harris said he planned to use the stakes for his signs in the runoff election and, if he advances, the November general election in race to replace Dallas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson.

By Gromer Jeffers Jr. and Krista M. Torralva

Republican Run Off
A car and trailer for congressional candidate James Frank Harris sit parked outside of Duncanville City Hall in Duncanville, Texas, Monday, March 7, 2022. Harris is in the May 24th Republican runoff for the District 30 congressional seat.(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

A Republican candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was arrested on a charge of theft for stealing other candidates’ campaign signs, according to Grand Prairie police.

Candidates who were picking up their signs saw James Frank Harris putting numerous campaign signs and their wooden and metal stakes in his vehicle on the afternoon of March 3, Grand Prairie police said.

Officers arrived at the 4700 block of South Carrier Parkway and found Harris with a trailer filled with campaign signs and stakes. He was arguing with at least two witnesses, and some of the exchange was captured on video and posted on social media.

“Upon arrival, officers made contact with two separate victims who had gone to the area to retrieve their campaign signs,” said Mark Beseda, a public information officer for Grand Prairie police. “When they arrived, they observed their signs being taken and placed into a vehicle without their consent.”

https://www.facebook.com/angela.luckey.7/videos/493886245522393/?t=19

Harris, a DeSoto resident, had the signs of numerous other candidates, and he could face additional charges, Beseda said.

“This remains an active investigation with possible additional victims and charges forthcoming,” Beseda said.

The Dallas County GOP is aware of the arrest and has made it clear it does not condone such actions.

Reached Wednesday by The Dallas Morning News, Harris said he made a list of candidates who lost and collected only signs from them because he figured they wouldn’t need them.

Harris said he planned to use the stakes for his signs in the runoff election and, if he advances, in the November general election. In all, he estimated he collected about two dozen stakes.

Harris said he reasoned that candidates often leave their signs for city staff to place in the trash.

“The city generally picks them up and discards them themselves. Very seldomly do (candidates) go out and pick up their signs,” Harris said.

https://www.facebook.com/angela.luckey.7/videos/330626275754511/?t=0

He said he doesn’t believe what he did constitutes a theft because the signs were in public places, not someone’s private property. Some of his own signs were already snatched up before he started collecting them two days after the election, he said.

“I wasn’t stealing signs. I was just taking signs the city was going to take,” Harris said.

He wasn’t upset that someone appears to have taken some of his signs. They beat him to them, he reasoned.

“I could’ve gotten them not only the next day. I could’ve gotten them that night (of the election),” Harris said.

“Some of my signs were taken and destroyed. There’s nothing I can do when they’re in the public domain,” Harris said.

He said he believes the only reason he’s facing trouble is because he’s a Republican.

“If I was a Democrat … it wouldn’t have been an issue,” Harris said.

Harris said he has no intention of dropping out of the race.

“I’m the frontrunner. That’s why they want me out … I’m a thorn in their side,” Harris said.

Signs and their wooden, metal or wire posts can be costly, so they are often reused by candidates and political operatives.

Typically, cities give candidates a window of time after an election to gather their campaign signs. Eventually code enforcement officers are dispatched to remove any lingering campaign materials that residents see as eyesores. In some cities, code enforcement officials will try to contract candidates before confiscating their signs.

In Grand Prairie, the procedure is for code enforcement officers to call candidates and ask them to collect their signs. If they don’t, the officers pick up the signs and store them, Beseda said.

Angela Luckey, one of the witnesses to the incident, told The News that Harris was determined to keep the signs he had taken, telling police he had a right to them because the March 1 primary had concluded.

“The police allowed us to get our items off his truck and allowed us to press charges against him,” Luckey said. “It was really bizarre.”

Harris said he also encountered Dallas County Family District Judge Kim Cooks, who objected to him taking her signs.

“I pulled up next to him and I said, ‘What are you doing? You’re a thief. I’ve watched you steal signs,’” Cooks told The News. “He was like, ‘You have to prove that they’re your signs.’ So I said, ‘No, I’m calling the police because you’re stealing.’ Then I just pulled in front of him and he couldn’t drive away.”

Cooks said that she didn’t know Harris or that he was a Republican congressional candidate until she saw him taking her signs in Grand Prairie.

Harris is in the May 24 GOP runoff for the District 30 congressional seat against James Rodgers. He finished slightly ahead of Rodgers in the March 1 primary.

District 30 is one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the country, so Johnson’s eventual replacement will likely be determined by the Democratic Party runoff between state Rep. Jasmine Crockett and former congressional chief of staff Jane Hamilton. When he was arrested last week, Harris had campaign signs that belonged to Hamilton and Crockett, witnesses said.

‘We don’t condone actions like this’

Though he’s unlikely to win Johnson’s seat, Harris’ theft charge is an embarrassment for local Republicans looking to gain traction in Dallas County, one of the bluest counties in Texas.

Dallas County Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu said she heard about Harris’ arrest but had not had any contact with him. Harris filed for the race in Austin and has not met with the local GOP before or after his arrest, Stoddard-Hajdu said.

“Certainly we don’t condone actions like this, and it’s not something we want our candidates doing,” she said.

The party doesn’t feel his arrest will impact their ambitions to claim the seat. Though the local party doesn’t endorse candidates, Stoddard-Hajdu pointed out that Republicans have options.

“We certainly think James Rogers is a fantastic candidate and would do a great job in District 30,” Stoddard-Hajdu said.

She also noted that the accusations against Harris are, at this point, just allegations. It could be a long time before a determination is made about whether enough evidence exists to prosecute him and get a conviction.

According to his campaign website, Harris has been active in Dallas-area politics for more than two decades.

“Many of our constituents have a conservative bent and we believe in faith, family, and freedom,” Harris states on his website. “These are parts of the platform of the RNC. Although it is not perfect, I want to be an instrument to assist in all people having an equal opportunity to reach their goals without undue hardship being imposed on them from the government or cultural restraints.”

Harris, whose bio states he has had a career in community youth diversion programs, added that he “wanted to line up with those who applaud God and not ‘boo’ Him as with the Democratic Party.”

His platform includes “stopping insane immigration policies, better and school choice, stop perversion of women/men and sport, increasing police funding and stopping the alphabet mob.”

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