An Arkansas lawmaker who made headlines earlier this year when it came to light that he sent his adopted daughters to live with a man who allegedly raped one of them was supposed to receive a “courage” award Wednesday at a dinner headlined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
But at the last minute, the local Republican Party chapter hosting the dinner asked that an outside group not present the award to state Rep. Justin Harris (R) at their event.
A self-described, conservative nonprofit called Family Council Action Committee planned to present the “Power of Courage Award” to Harris and state Rep. Charlene Fite (R) at the Crawford County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, according to a press release obtained by The Arkansas Times. The release issued Wednesday said that the two lawmakers “demonstrated courage by standing strong in faith when situations were tough at the State Capitol” and “are consistently models of their Christian values in their homes, their communities, and their churches.”
The Arkansas Times reported in March on a troubling rape case involving one of Harris’ three adopted daughters. In 2012, the Harris family “rehomed” two of the girls six months after they adopted them by sending them to live with a former employee of a day care they ran. “Rehoming,” the practice of putting an adopted child back up for adoption, is discouraged by the Arkansas Department of Human Services but is not illegal in the state.
Eric Francis, the Harris’ former employee who took in two of the girls, was arrested on suspicion of raping a six-year-old girl in April 2014. Harris did not disclose at the time that the six-year-old was his one of adopted daughters.
The president of the Family Council, Jerry Cox, told The Arkansas Times on Wednesday afternoon that the Crawford County Republican Party had asked the group not to present its awards at the Lincoln Day Dinner, at which Cruz, a Republican presidential contender, was the featured speaker.
Asked by the newspaper whether he hesitated to honor Harris in light of the “rehoming” controversy, Cox said he had no reservations.
“None whatosever (sic), because the award is specifically for his sponsorship of one of the pro-life bills passed during the session … These awards are given to lawmakers for their sponsorship of specific legislation. That’s it,” he told The Arkansas Times.
A reporter for local TV station KARK asked Cruz earlier in the day whether he was familiar with Harris’ background:
— Drew Petrimoulx (@DrewPetrimoulx) August 12, 2015
“Are we to take your speaking at that event as an endorsement of his time as a legislator?” the reporter asked.
“I recognize that you want to get me involved in local legislative matters here. I can tell you what my focus is,” Cruz demurred. “My focus is on the challenges facing this country.”
This post has been updated.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.