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Fred R. Harris

Fred Roy Harris (born November 13, 1930) is a former Democratic United States Senator from the state of Oklahoma. He served from 1964 until 1973.



Harris was born in Cotton County, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1952 and its law school in 1954. He was first elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1956 and served in it until 1964. For most of this time he was one of its youngest members. He made an unsuccessful race for governor of Oklahoma in 1962; however, he became better known throughout the state as a consequence of this race.

U.S. Senate

In 1964 Harris entered the race to serve out the unexpired term of United States Senator Robert S. Kerr, who had died in office. He was successful, defeating former Governor J. Howard Edmondson, who had been appointed to succeed Kerr, in the Democratic primary, then narrowly upsetting Republican nominee and legendary Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson by 51% to 49%, and was sworn in as soon as the vote totals could be verified, becoming, again, one of the youngest members of the body in which he was serving. Despite being fairly liberal from an increasingly conservative state, he was elected to a full term in 1966, defeating attorney Pat H. Patterson by a 54% to 46% margin. During this Senate term, he also served briefly as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, being both preceded and succeeded in that position by Larry O'Brien. Harris was one of the final two candidates considered by Vice President and Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey to be the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1968; Humphrey ultimately chose Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine due to Harris' young age (37) at the time.[1] Humphrey, according to former DNC Chair Lawrence O'Brien, chose Senator Muskie at the very last minute.

In 1970, Harris was a major mover in the eventually successful 1970 legislation to restore to the inhabitants of the Taos Pueblo 48,000 acres (194 km ) of mountain land taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and designated as the Carson National Forest early in the 20th century.[2] The struggle was particularly emotive since this return of Taos land included Blue Lake, which the people of the Pueblo traditionally consider sacred. Harris forged a bipartisan alliance to pass this, with then President Richard Nixon, from whom Harris was sharply divided on numerous other issues, notably the Vietnam War. In doing so, he had to overcome the powerful fellow Democratic Senators Clinton Anderson and Scoop Jackson, who were firmly opposed to return of the Taos lands. As recounted by Harris' wife LaDonna, who was actively involved in the struggle, when the bill was finally passed and came up to be signed by the President, Nixon looked up and said: "I can't believe I'm signing a bill that was sponsored by Fred Harris.".[3]

In 1971, Harris was the only Senator to vote against confirmation of Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.[4] He also called for abolishing the Interstate Commerce Commission.[5]

Later life

Harris did not seek another Senate term in 1972, choosing instead to make a run for President on a campaign for "economic democracy".[6][7] That bid was short-lived but he ran again in 1976. Harris' second bid for President had at least two unusual features. For one, in order to keep expenses down, he traveled the country in a RV and stayed in private homes, giving his hosts a card which was to be redeemable for one night's stay in the White House upon his election. For another, he placed unusual stress on issues affecting the working class. He also pushed for Native American issues. This was due to his background – his former wife LaDonna Harris is of Native American Comanche ancestry, and had been deeply involved in Native American activism in her own right. Moreover, he was from the state which had begun its political existence as Indian Territory. After a surprising fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Harris coined the term "winnowed in", saying "The winnowing-out process has begun and we have just been 'winnowed in'". Harris won more than 10% of the vote, pushing Mo Udall, who was at one point leading the polls, into fifth place. Harris would be "winnowed out" just over a month later. He finished fourth in the New Hampshire primary and a week after that he finished fifth in the Vermont primary and third in the Massachusetts primary with just 7%. Harris remained in the contest for another month, with his best showing a fourth-placed finish in Illinois with 8%.[8][9][10][11]

Harris left elective politics for the academic world. He has had many books on political subjects published, including, Potomac Fever (Norton, 1977 ISBN 0393056104) and Deadlock or Decision: The U.S. Senate and the Rise of National Politics (Oxford University, 1993 ISBN 0195080254). He is also the author of three novels. Harris currently is a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and a resident of Corrales, New Mexico. He will soon be teaching a course at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.


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