Born in Walters, Oklahoma, Harris won election to the Oklahoma Senate after graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He 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.
|Fred R. Harris|
|United States Senator
November 4, 1964 – January 3, 1973
|Preceded by||J. Howard Edmondson|
|Succeeded by||Dewey F. Bartlett|
|32nd Chairman of the Democratic National Committee|
|Preceded by||Lawrence F. O'Brien|
|Succeeded by||Lawrence F. O'Brien|
|Member of the Oklahoma Senate|
|Born||Fred Roy Harris
November 13, 1930
Walters, Oklahoma, USA
|Children||Kathryn Harris (now Tijerina) (born 1950),
Byron Harris (born 1958),
Laura Harris (born 1961)
|Education||University of Oklahoma|
Harris was born November 13, 1930 in Walters, Cotton County, Oklahoma, the son of Eunice Alene (Person) and Fred Byron Harris, a sharecropper. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Humphrey, according to former Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence O'Brien, vaccilated between the two until finally choosing Muskie at the very last minute. However, Harris broke ranks with Johnson and Humphrey over policy on the Vietnam War.
In 1970, Harris was a major mover in the successful legislation to restore to the inhabitants of the Taos Pueblo 48,000 ac (194,000 ha) of mountain land that had taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and designated as the Carson National Forest early in the 20th century. 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."
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. He also called for abolishing the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Harris did not seek another Senate term in 1972 to make a run for president on a campaign for "economic democracy." 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 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%.
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). He is also the author of three novels. He resides in Corrales, New Mexico.
J. Howard Edmondson
|United States Senator from Oklahoma (Class 2)
Dewey F. Bartlett