Fred R. Harris

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Fred Harris
32nd Chair of the Democratic National Committee
In office
January 14, 1969 – March 5, 1970
Preceded byLarry O'Brien
Succeeded byLarry O'Brien
United States Senator
from Oklahoma
In office
November 4, 1964 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byJ. Howard Edmondson
Succeeded byDewey F. Bartlett
Personal details
Fred Roy Harris

(1930-11-13) November 13, 1930 (age 90)
Walters, Oklahoma, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1949; div. 1982)

Margaret Elliston
(m. 1982)
EducationUniversity of Oklahoma (BA, LLB)

Fred Roy Harris (born November 13, 1930) is a former Democratic United States Senator from the state of Oklahoma.[1]

Born in Walters, Oklahoma, Harris won election to the Oklahoma Senate after graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He ousted an appointed U.S. Senate incumbent J. Howard Edmondson and won a 1964 special election to succeed Robert S. Kerr, narrowly defeating football coach Bud Wilkinson. Harris strongly supported the Great Society programs but criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War. Harris won re-election in 1966 but declined to seek another term in 1972.

From 1969 to 1970, he served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In the 1968 presidential election, Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey strongly considered selecting Harris as his running mate. Harris unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and 1976. After 1976, he became a professor at the University of New Mexico.

Early life[edit]

Harris was born November 13, 1930 in Walters, Cotton County, Oklahoma, the son of Eunice Alene (Person) and Fred Byron Harris, a sharecropper.[2] He graduated from the University of Oklahoma (OU) in 1952, where he earned bachelor's degree in history and political science. He then entered the OU law school, where he was administrative assistant to the dean and was successively book editor and managing editor of the Law Review.[a] He received the LL B. degree with distinction and was admitted to the bar in 1954. He was first elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1956 and served in it until 1964. For most of the time, he was one of its youngest members. He made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Oklahoma in 1962, which allowed him to become better known throughout the state as a consequence of this campaign.

US Senate[edit]

In 1964, Harris entered the campaign 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 and 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, again becoming one of the youngest members of the body in which he was serving.[b]

Harris was a firm supporter of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, which were often unpopular in his home state. Harris voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,[3] while not voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court.[4][5] In March 1968, the president appointed him to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He quickly became one of the most active members and was deeply concerned about the plight of economically deprived inner-city African Americans. He also strongly supported agricultural programs, the Arkansas River Navigation Program, and the Indian health programs, which were all very popular in Oklahoma.[2]

Despite being strongly liberal from an increasingly-conservative state, he was elected to a full term in 1966, defeating attorney Pat J. Patterson by a 54% to 46% margin. Patterson had tried to unseat Harris by announcing his support for a constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Everett M. Dirksen (R-IL) to allow school boards to provide for prayers in public schools. Although Dirksen's amendment had enthusiastic political support in Oklahoma, Harris opposed it in a public letter: "I believe in the separation of church and state and I believe prayer and Bible reading should be voluntary." Harris easily defeated Patterson in the ensuing election.[2]

During his 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 chose Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine because of Harris's young age of 37.[6] Humphrey, according to former Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence O'Brien, vaccilated between the two until finally choosing Muskie at the last minute. However, Harris broke ranks with Johnson and Humphrey over policy on the Vietnam War.[2]

In 1970, Harris was a major mover in the successful legislation to restore to the inhabitants of the Taos Pueblo 48,000 ac (19,425 ha) of mountain land that had taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and designated as the Carson National Forest early in the 20th century.[7] The struggle was particularly emotive since this return of Taos land included Blue Lake, which the people of the Pueblo traditionally consider sacred. To pass the bill, Harris forged a bipartisan alliance 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 Presba Anderson and Henry M. Jackson, who were firmly opposed to return of the Taos lands. As recounted by Harris's 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."[8]

In 1971, Harris was the only senator to vote against confirmation of Lewis F. Powell, Jr. to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.[9] He also called for the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission.[10]

Later life[edit]

Harris at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2018.

Harris did not seek another Senate term in 1972 to make a run for president on a campaign for "economic democracy".[11][12] The bid was short-lived, but he ran again in 1976. To keep expenses down, he traveled the country in a recreational vehicle and stayed in private homes, giving his hosts a card to be redeemable for one night's stay in the White House upon his election. He placed emphasis on issues affecting Native Americans and the working class. His interest in Native American rights is linked to his ancestry and that of his former wife, La Donna Harris, a Comanche who had been deeply involved in Native American activism in her own right. Moreover, he was from the state that had begun its political existence as Indian Territory.

After a surprising fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Harris coined the term "winnowed in" by 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 afterward, he finished third in the Vermont primary and fifth in the Massachusetts primary. Harris remained in the contest for another month, with his best showing a fourth-placed finish in Illinois with 8%.[13][14][15][16]

Harris left elective politics for academia after 1976. He became a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and wrote many books on political subjects, including, Potomac Fever (Norton, 1977 ISBN 0-393-05610-4) and Deadlock or Decision: The U.S. Senate and the Rise of National Politics (Oxford University, 1993 ISBN 0-19-508025-4). In 2003, Harris was elected to the Common Cause National Governing Board. He is also the author of three novels. He resides in Corrales, New Mexico.[2]


  1. ^ The Law Review issue of August, 1956, contained his first published article.[2]
  2. ^ According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Harris, then only 33 years old, was the youngest senator-elect in the history of Oklahoma.[2]


  1. ^ Fred R. Harris, Does People Do It?: A Memoir
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lowitt, Robert. "Harris, Fred Roy." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed October 27, 2016.
  3. ^ "TO PASS S. 1564, THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965".
  6. ^ Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1968, New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969, p.355-356
  7. ^ Julyan, B: New Mexico's Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide, page 73. Big Earth Publishing, 1999
  8. ^ LaDonna Harris : A Comanche Life, University of Nebraska Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8032-2396-X, p. 90.
  9. ^ "Our Campaigns - Supreme Court - Associate Justice Race". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  10. ^ Walker, Jesse (2009-11-01). "Five Faces of Jerry Brown". The American Conservative (November 2009). Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  11. ^ "Economic Democracy - Economic Populism" by Trenz Pruca, on The Daily Kos, August 21, 2011
  12. ^ "Economic Democracy - What Needs Doing" in Trenz Pruca's Journal, Comments and Analysis on Current Events. August 8, 2011
  13. ^ Jules Witcover, No Way to Pick a President: How Money and Hired Guns Have Debased American Elections, 2001, p. 166
  14. ^ George C. Edwards, John Howard Kessel, Bert A. Rockman, Researching the presidency: vital questions, new approaches. 1993, p. 60
  15. ^ "WINNOWED IN!... BUT FOR JUST HOW LONG? ... Looking forward to the second month of Primary/Caucus season 2004". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  16. ^ "SERIOUS WINNOWING ... both on and after 'Super Duper' Tuesday". Retrieved 30 April 2016.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert S. Kerr
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Oklahoma
(Class 2)

1964, 1966
Succeeded by
Ed Edmondson
Preceded by
Larry O'Brien
Chair of the Democratic National Committee
Succeeded by
Larry O'Brien
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
J. Howard Edmondson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Oklahoma
Served alongside: Mike Monroney Henry Bellmon
Succeeded by
Dewey F. Bartlett
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Birch Bayh
Most Senior Living U.S. Senator
Sitting or Former

Current holder