Fred R. Harris

For other people named Fred Harris, see Fred Harris.

Fred R. Harris
United States Senator
from Oklahoma
In office
November 4, 1964  January 3, 1973
Preceded by J. Howard Edmondson
Succeeded by Dewey F. Bartlett
32nd Chairman of the Democratic National Committee
In office
Preceded by Lawrence F. O'Brien
Succeeded by Lawrence F. O'Brien
Member of the Oklahoma Senate
In office
Personal details
Born Fred Roy Harris
(1930-11-13) November 13, 1930
Walters, Oklahoma, USA
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) LaDonna Harris,
Margaret Elliston
Children Kathryn Harris (now Tijerina) (born 1950),
Byron Harris (born 1958),
Laura Harris (born 1961)
Education University of Oklahoma
Profession Lawyer, Academician
Religion Baptist

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

Early life

Harris was born November 13, 1930 in Walters, Cotton County, Oklahoma, the son of Eunice Alene (Person) and Fred Byron Harris, a sharecropper.[1] 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.[lower-alpha 1] 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

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.[lower-alpha 2]

Senator Harris was a firm supporter of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, which were often unpopular in his home state. In 1968, 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 Indian health programs, which were all very popular in Oklahoma.[1]

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}, that would have allowed school boards to provide for prayers in public schools. Although Dirksen's amendment had enthusiastic political support in Oklahoma, Harris opposed it, saying 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.[1] During the 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 becauae of Harris' young age (37) at the time.[2] Humphrey, according to former DNC Chair O'Brien, chose Muskie at the very last minute. However, Harris broke ranks with Johnson and Humphrey over policy on the Vietnam War.[1]

In 1970, Harris was a major mover in the eventually successful legislation to restore to the inhabitants of the Taos Pueblo 48,000 ac (194,000 ha) of mountain land taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and designated as the Carson National Forest early in the 20th century.[3] 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 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."[4]

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.[5] He also called for abolishing the Interstate Commerce Commission.[6]

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."[7][8] That bid was short-lived but he ran again in 1976. To keep expenses down, he traveled the country in an 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. 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 Comanche who 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" 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 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%.[9][10][11][12]

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.[1]


  1. The Law Review issue of August, 1956, contained his first published article.[1]
  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.[1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Lowitt, Robert. "Harris, Fred Roy." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed October 27, 2016.
  2. Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1968, New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969, p.355-356
  3. Julyan, B: New Mexico's Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide, page 73. Big Earth Publishing, 1999
  4. LaDonna Harris : A Comanche Life, University of Nebraska Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8032-2396-X, p. 90.
  5. "Our Campaigns - Supreme Court - Associate Justice Race". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  6. Walker, Jesse (2009-11-01) Five Faces of Jerry Brown, The American Conservative
  7. "Economic Democracy - Economic Populism" by Trenz Pruca, on The Daily Kos, August 21, 2011
  8. "Economic Democracy - What Needs Doing" in Trenz Pruca's Journal, Comments and Analysis on Current Events. August 8, 2011
  9. Jules Witcover, No Way to Pick A President: How Money and Hired Guns Have Debased American Elections, 2001, p.166
  10. George C. Edwards, John Howard Kessel, Bert A. Rockman, Researching the presidency: vital questions, new approaches. 1993, p.60
  11. "WINNOWED IN!... BUT FOR JUST HOW LONG? ... Looking forward to the second month of Primary/Caucus season 2004". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  12. "SERIOUS WINNOWING ... both on and after 'Super Duper' Tuesday". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
United States Senate
Preceded by
J. Howard Edmondson
United States Senator from Oklahoma (Class 2)
Succeeded by
Dewey F. Bartlett
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