Actor Hill Harper is officially running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Michigan, posing a progressive challenge to frontrunner U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin.
“We’re in a state where I think the triple blue leadership in Lansing has done really hard work moving the state forward, but in Washington, D.C., it’s still broken. And folks feel like it’s still broken. And I’m one of them,” Harper told The Detroit News.
“Without energized, bold leadership in the U.S. Senate, our state will continue to be held back from achieving its full potential. We deserve a better brand of politics than politics as usual, and that’s why I’m running for the U.S. Senate.”
Harper, 57, has never run for public office before. He is best known for his roles in ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and CBS’ “CSI: NY,” but also has a side career as an author of advice books such as “Letters to a Young Brother” and “The Wealth Cure.”
The Iowa native owns the Roasting Plant coffee shop on Woodward Avenue downtown and says he moved to Detroit in 2018 after buying the historic Charles T. Fisher mansion in the city’s Boston-Edison neighborhood.
Harper says the Senate needs a “richness” of diversity, including life experience, and that he’d help fill that void.
“As an example, if I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I will be the only U.S. senator who is a current dues-paying, card-carrying union member. If I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I will be one of very few small business owners in the U.S. Senate and, I believe, the only Democrat,” Harper said.
Harper is a member of the Screen Actors Guild − American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, a union that represents actors.
“People want to see themselves reflected in their representation, and right now Michiganders don’t feel that way about their Washington, D.C., representation,” Harper said.
Also, only three Black men currently serve in the U.S. Senate – Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia; and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina – and no Black women. After the retirement of Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Michigan has only one African-American member in its congressional delegation, freshman Republican U.S. Rep. John James of Shelby Township.
“There’s a high degree of frustration by a lot of Democrats – not just African-American Democrats in Michigan – that for the first time in 57 years Michigan does not have a Black Democratic representative in Congress. And that is going backwards,” Harper said. “I think that that folks want to see real people-powered representation over big-donor, establishment representation.”
Harper is likely to have an uphill slog to compete with Slotkin, who flipped a GOP-held seat in 2018 and has run three times in competitive swing districts. She’s known as a tireless campaigner and prolific fundraiser.
Slotkin got a head start campaigning four months ago, has already raised $5.8 million and has about $3.6 million in the bank as of June 30, her team said Monday. She’s also pulled in a number of endorsements ranging from labor unions to EMILY’s List to U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Birmingham, and state Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing.
“I think Slotkin is still pretty clearly the favorite. She fits the mold of the kind of candidate that Democrats usually choose in races like this. They tend to prefer candidates with more experience over an outsider,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“That’s not to say she’s the for-sure nominee or whatever, but I think there’s a burden of proof on the non-Slotkin candidates to show that they’re viable. I mean, has Hill Harper ever run for anything before? Going from that all the way to a U.S. Senate campaign is quite a leap.”
Kondik noted that Slotkin could also benefit from the growing field – currently at six candidates – especially if Harper splits the Black vote with other African-American candidates like state Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit and State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh of Saginaw.
Other declared candidates include Dearborn businessman Nasser Beydoun and attorney Zack Burns of Ann Arbor.
Harper’s resume includes U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1986 and degrees from Brown University and Harvard Law. The extent of his political involvement is not clear, though he campaigned for President Barack Obama in Iowa and later served on Obama’s Cancer Panel. He also was involved in the One Fair Wage campaign in Michigan.
In addition to the Roasting Plant, he’s the founder and chairman of Black Wall Street Holdings Inc., which launched a fintech app; he co-owns the International House Hotel in New Orleans; and owns commercial and real estate properties in Detroit, Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey, according to his CV.
Harper also founded the Manifest Your Own Destiny Foundation and the Pierce and Hill Harper Arts Foundation in Detroit. Pierce is Harper’s adopted son, who is age 7.
Asked if he’d continue to shoot “The Good Doctor” in Vancouver while campaigning, Harper didn’t rule it out.
“That is impossible to say because we’re on strike. The industry is on strike right now. Nothing’s happening as far as the industry, so who knows?” he said, referring to the Writers Guild of America’s ongoing strike and the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, which may soon join them.
“The industry is using the strike as an opportunity to get rid of projects and do all sorts of things, so I can’t even answer the question. I don’t know.”
Harper said his experience as a small business owner is part of the reason his campaign will focus on economic development, particularly in regards to job creation, in addition to cost of living factors such as inflation, affordable health care and prescription drugs.
He lamented wealth inequality, a “broken” education system and the Supreme Court’s rulings last month striking down President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan and banning race-conscious college admissions. Affirmative action provided him an opportunity to go to Brown and Harvard, and his public education helped him excel there, he said.
“We have some of the best colleges in the country in our state, yet, most of our top graduates leave. They’re like LeBron James – they take their talents to South Beach,” Harper said.
“We need to have more people choose Michigan, like I chose Michigan. We need more people, more businesses to move here and to create jobs. We need more graduates to stay and to start businesses here. We can do that if we fight for it, and that’s what I plan to do.”