New information shows Harris was under investigation months prior to his election as Chair.
While West Virginia’s Republican Party was advocating for integrity in elections its immediate past chairman withheld information that committee members have said would have “most definitely” changed their minds in his election.
Changing the minds of just one member would have altered the most controversial GOP chair election in memory. In 2021 Mark Harris was elected as chair of the WVGOP in a chaotic and questionable vote count. Harris was a newcomer to the state GOP and was presented as an ultra-conservative who mirrored the same ideology as his predecessor Melody Potter.
A challenge by past WVGOP chairman, now lobbyist and consultant, Conrad Lucas ignited a battle between voting members of the legislature and the WVGOP establishment. Multiple rounds of voting occurred after observers questioned the results and even then the final results were questionable at best. Nevertheless, Harris was named chairman on March 13, 2021.
What was unknown and withheld to Harris supporters and WVGOP Executive Committee members voting that day were details surrounding an investigation by the West Virginia Board of Medicine (Complaint 21-20-W) that had been initiated against Dr. Harris a week before. This complaint came to West Virginia after Harris’ clinical privileges were suspended by a Virginia military hospital in December 2020 due to “concerns of unprofessional conduct related to his evaluation of a female patient”
The patient alleged that during a routine flight status physical evaluation, Dr. Harris touched and remained in contact with her breast for longer than appropriate while attempting to listen to her heart. The patient further alleged that Dr. Harris asked her irrelevant questions of a personal nature during the exam.
A consent order was entered in January 2023 by the WV Board of Medicine and agreed to by Dr. Mark Harris where he voluntarily stipulates the truthfulness and accuracy of the facts resulting in a public reprimand for the incident.
This information is new to members who voted for Harris but not the first piece of controversy they were alerted to before his election.
Harris was chief of staff at the Beckley VA Medical Center from 2017 to 2019. An investigation into and conviction for sexual assault against a different doctor under his management led to Dr. Harris’ dismissal from the VA.
Beckley attorney Stephen New told WV Statewide News he represented approximately 60 different veterans in a civil case against the VA regarding the sexual abuse findings. While those cases were settled, a new lawsuit has arisen alleging gross negligence related to credentialing and procedures and Mr. New indicated Harris is a priority focus of his case. Attorney New told us he believed Dr. Harris under-represented his level of responsibility in these cases and that the litigation of these issues is currently in process.
Harris addressed the VA issue before his election in 2021. “A person who worked for me engaged in serious misconduct and was removed,” Harris told members of the WVGOP Executive Committee. “Shortly thereafter I was replaced as chief of staff and currently – I am retired.”
While Harris seemingly explained away the actions of his subordinate, he did not acknowledge his own sexual assault investigation or disciplinary actions that had started months earlier.
In June 2022, West Virginia MetroNews interviewed Dr. Harris after the WVGOP issued this statement:
“Recently, multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior by Mark Harris, West Virginia Republican Party Chair, have been brought to the attention of the officers of the Party, both individually and collectively, Given the nature and credibility of the allegations and the critical need for utmost integrity and continuity in the Republican Party, we see no other option than to request Mark Harris immediately consider resignation at this time.”
Harris responded to WV Metronews that he was surprised by the statement: “I’m not prepared to speak about it because this is news to me.” Dr. Harris refused to resign from his position but did not seek re-election.
The WVGOP did not release the details of the allegations of inappropriate behavior in question. Members of the committee indicated that these new allegations were unrelated to Dr. Harris’s medical practices and centered around his performance in his official capacity as the state GOP chairman.
However, Dr. Harris knew of allegations of inappropriate behavior not only before that interview but before his being named chair of the West Virginia Republican Party.
In the most recent WVGOP election newly elected committee member, State Senator, and Attorney General candidate Mike Stuart (R-Kanawha) urged the committee to slow its process and allow members to properly vet and interview candidates before voting. The remarks were not pointed at any candidate on the 2022 slate, but rather a cautionary warning from the former state party chair who ironically as US Attorney had overseen the prosecution of Dr. Harris’s employee at the VA Medical Center.
As Republican Party numbers grow in West Virginia, many members of the executive committee have noted not all Republicans embrace the party platform. A recent forum by the Gateway Republican Women in the eastern panhandle illustrated that many elected officials are not aware of the contents of the platform.
“Knowledge and adherence to the party platform, as well as background research, should be a requirement for all candidates, especially the chair position,” said one committee member. Barring a vacancy, the next election for GOP chair will not be until 2026. WVGOP state officers’ terms continue until July 1 of non-Presidential election years.
Dr. Harris does hold an active medical license in West Virginia.