Tom Harkin: Wikis


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Tom Harkin

Assumed office 
January 3, 1985
Serving with Chuck Grassley
Preceded by Roger Jepsen

Assumed office 
September 9, 2009
Preceded by Ted Kennedy

In office
January 4, 2007 – September 9, 2009
Preceded by Saxby Chambliss
Succeeded by Blanche Lincoln
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
Preceded by Richard Lugar
Succeeded by Thad Cochran
In office
January 3 – January 20, 2001
Preceded by Richard Lugar
Succeeded by Richard Lugar

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 5th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by William J. Scherle
Succeeded by Jim Ross Lightfoot

Born November 19, 1939 (1939-11-19) (age 70)
Cumming, Iowa
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ruth Harkin
Children Amy Harkin Goodrich
Jenny Harkin
Residence Cumming, Iowa
Alma mater Iowa State University

The Catholic University of America

Occupation attorney / Sen. D-IA
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy/United States Navy Reserve
Years of service 1962-1989
Unit Naval Air Facility Atsugi/Guantanamo Bay/Reserves

Thomas Richard "Tom" Harkin (born November 19, 1939) is the junior United States Senator from Iowa and a member of the Democratic Party. First elected to the Senate in 1984, Harkin was a candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 1992, and is currently chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.


Early life

Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa. His father, Patrick Harkin, an Irish American[9] was a coal miner and his mother, Frances, was a Slovene immigrant who died when he was ten. He still lives in his childhood house, where he and his five siblings were raised without hot running water or a furnace. He attended Dowling Catholic High School which is currently located in West Des Moines, Iowa.[1] Harkin attended Iowa State University on a Navy R.O.T.C. scholarship and was a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He graduated with a degree in government and economics in 1962, and served in the United States Navy as an active-duty jet pilot from 1962 to 1967. Harkin was stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan, where he ferried aircraft to and from the airbase that had been damaged in the Vietnam War and in operational and training accidents. He was also stationed for a time at Guantanamo Bay, where he flew missions in support of U-2 planes reconnoitering Cuba. After leaving active duty in 1967, he spent three years in the Ready Reserves, and transitioned into the Naval Reserves in 1970. He retired in 1989 with the rank of commander.

Early political career

In 1969, Harkin moved to Washington, D.C., and began work as an aide to Democratic Congressman Neal Smith. During his work for Smith, he accompanied a congressional delegation that went to South Vietnam in 1970. Harkin published photographs he took during the trip and a detailed account of the "tiger cages" at Con Son Island prison in Life Magazine on July 17, 1970. The account exposed shocking, inhumane conditions and treatment to which prisoners were subjected. He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in 1972.

In 1972, the same year that he graduated from law school, Harkin returned to Iowa and immediately ran against an incumbent Republican Congressman, William J. Scherle. Scherle represented the southwestern portion of Iowa, which (with one brief exception) had not elected a Democrat to Congress since the end of the Great Depression. While winning a higher percentage of votes than any of Scherle's previous opponents, Harkin nevertheless lost the race.

After his 1972 defeat, Harkin practiced law in Ames before seeking a rematch against Scherle in 1974. In what was generally a bad year for Republicans due to the Watergate scandal, Harkin defeated Scherle by only 3,500 votes. He was reelected four more times from Iowa's 5th congressional district without serious difficulty.

U.S. Senate


In 1984, Harkin won the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate and defeated freshman Republican Roger Jepsen by a surprisingly wide 11-point margin. He was reelected in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. He has served in the Senate longer than any Democrat in Iowa's history, and only Neal Smith has served in Congress longer among Iowa Democrats.

Committee assignments

1992 presidential campaign

Harkin ran for President in 1992 as a populist with labor union support. He criticized George H.W. Bush for being out of touch with working class Americans.[2] Harkin was an early favorite in a small field of five candidates. Harkin won the Iowa caucus and those in Idaho and Minnesota (with help from Senator Paul Wellstone), but he ran poorly in New Hampshire and other primaries and ultimately lost the Democratic Party nomination to Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Harkin was the first Democratic primary contender to drop out and throw his support behind Clinton — a favor that led to a close relationship throughout the Clinton presidency.


Vice presidential speculation

Harkin speaks during the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, opening his speech using American Sign Language in reference to his involvement with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1992 Harkin was on the short list of running mates for Bill Clinton, alongside Senator Al Gore, Congressman Lee Hamilton, Senators Bob Graham, Bob Kerrey, and Harris Wofford. Gore was ultimately chosen. In 2000, he was frequently mentioned as a candidate Gore was considering for his running-mate, alongside House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, Senators Bob Graham, Evan Bayh, John Kerry, and John Edwards. Gore ultimately selected Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

In the 2004 election Harkin was not on Kerry's vice presidential consideration list, while Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was.[citation needed] In 2008, there were reports that Harkin was vetted by Barack Obama to be a running mate.[citation needed] He neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.

Political positions


Harkin is perhaps best known as an advocate for people with disabilities. In 1990, he wrote and was the chief sponsor of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the nation's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, the sweeping legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, in public services, and in public accommodations.

Sen. Tom Harkin speaks at a rally held by the Coalition for the Advancement of Stem Cell Research.


During his political career, Harkin has generally supported legalized abortion. He has opposed most efforts to place legal restrictions on abortion, including voting against a ban on late term abortion, while supporting contraception and education to reduce teen pregnancy. As of 2003, Harkin received a 100 percent rating from NARAL, the pro-choice advocacy organization.[5] He was very critical of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which places limits on taxpayer-funded abortions in the context of the November 2009 Affordable Health Care for America Act.[6]

Same-sex marriage

In May 2009, Harkin announced he opposed any effort to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court decision in April 2009 that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. “We all grow as we get older; we learn things, we become more sensitive to people and people’s lives,” said Harkin. “The more I’ve looked at that, I’ve grown to think differently about how we should live. I guess I’ve got to the point of live and let live.” [7]

Child labor

Harkin has also been active in combating the worst forms of child labor. The Trade Development Act of 2000 "contains important child labor protections authored by Senator Harkin."[8] After reports of child trafficking and child slavery associated with cocoa plantations in West Africa surfaced in the media, Harkin, along with U.S. Representative Eliot Engel and with the support of U.S. Senator Herbert Kohl, sponsored a voluntary agreement by major players in the cocoa and chocolate industry signed in 2001 and often referred to as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The purpose of this "Protocol for the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derivative products" was to bring practices in West Africa into line with Convention 182 of the International Labor Organization concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor. (Some difficulties in meeting the deadlines set in this Protocol have been encountered.) Harkin has worked in other ways to combat the import of child labor-made products.[9]


Harkin is also a staunch supporter of Israel. He is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, which appropriates about $2 billion annually for military financing for Israel. In the Senate, he is the third-largest career recipient of pro-Israel Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions.[10]

President Bush

Along with California Senator Barbara Boxer, Harkin is one of only two Senate Democrats to come out in favor of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

Gun ownership

Harkin has been rated F by Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association. He was one of 16 senators who voted against the Vitter Amendment.


In May 2006 Harkin voted in favor of Senate Bill 2611, also known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Among the bill's many provisions, it would increase the number of H1B visas, increase security along the southern United States border with Mexico, allow long-time illegal immigrants to gain citizenship with some restrictions, and increase the number of guest workers over and above those already present in the U.S. through a new "blue card" visa program.[11]

Stem cell research

Sen. Tom Harkin holds a press conference regarding legislation to improve healthy eating habits.

Harkin has come out in favor of embryonic stem cell research. In July 2006, Harkin made a speech from the Senate floor in response to George W. Bush's veto of the embryonic stem cell research federal funding bill. His remarks were later criticized as "Catholic baiting" by the Catholic League.[12]


Harkin (on behalf of himself, and Senators Dick Lugar, Tim Johnson, Byron Dorgan, Joe Biden and Barack Obama), introduced the BioFuels Security Act (S. 2817/109th) on March 16, 2006.

Harkin came out in favor of the Fairness Doctrine during an interview with Bill Press. (February 11, 2009)[13]

Harkin has been influential in increasing research into alternative medicine. He was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Office of Alternative Medicine in 1992, which later became the NCCAM. His influence and results, however, have been criticized.[14][15]

Personal life

Senator Harkin married Minnesota native Ruth Raduenz in 1968 and has two daughters: Amy, born in 1976, and Jenny, born in 1981.

Ruth Harkin is an attorney and was one of the first women in the United States to be elected as a prosecutor when, in 1972, she was elected to the office of county attorney of Story County, Iowa. She served as a deputy counsel for the US Department of Agriculture before joining the Washington lobbying firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP, in 1983. In 1993, President Bill Clinton named her chairman and chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Ruth Harkin left the government and became United Technologies' senior vice president for international affairs and government relations in April 1997, leading their Washington DC office. In 2002, Mrs. Harkin became a director of ConocoPhillips. Mrs. Harkin currently sits on the Iowa Board of Regents, the body responsible for overseeing the state's public universities.

Their daughter Amy appeared on the NBC daytime reality series Starting Over from 2003 to 2004. Although Harkin never appeared on the show, his voice was heard when his daughter spoke to him on the phone. She is currently a graduate student at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Vietnam combat missions controversy

While running for his Senate seat in 1984, and again while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Harkin has faced criticism for claiming that he had flown combat missions over North Vietnam. In a 1979 round table discussion with other Congressional military veterans, Harkin said of his service as a Navy pilot: "One year was in Vietnam. I was flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions". These comments were later published in a 1981 book by David Broder. After subsequent inquiries by Barry Goldwater and The Wall Street Journal[16], Harkin clarified that that he had been stationed in Japan and sometimes flew recently repaired aircraft on test missions over Vietnam. His service flying F-4s and F-8s was later, while he was stationed in Cuba.

Fictionalized portraits

The character of Senator and former Wisconsin Governor Bart Nilson in the novel and film Primary Colors is loosely based on Harkin and his '92 Presidential bid.


  • Harkin, Tom and Thomas, C. E. Five Minutes to Midnight: Why the Nuclear Threat Is Growing Faster Than Ever, Carol Publishing Corporation, 1990. ISBN 1-55972-042-5

Electoral history

See also


  1. ^ Miller, Judith. "Tom Harkin's Old-Time Religion", The New York Times, February 9, 1992. Accessed November 6, 2007. "After his mother died, Harkin, an altar boy, went to Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines and won a Navy R.O.T.C. scholarship to college."
  2. ^ Miller, Judith: "Tom Harkin's Old-Time Religion", New York Times Magazine, February 9, 1992
  3. ^ a b c Our Campaigns - US President - D Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1992
  4. ^ Our Campaigns - IL US President - D Primary Race - Mar 17, 1992
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Harkin: Stupak’s abortion amendment is slippery slope
  7. ^ "Iowa Senator changes view, opposes banning same-sex marriage", Gay & Lesbian Times (1116), 14 May 2009,, retrieved 17 May 2009 
  8. ^ Bill Clinton, "Remarks on Signing the Trade and Development Act of 2000", May 8, 2000|
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ [4]
  12. ^ [5]
  13. ^ [6]
  14. ^ Budiansky S. (July 9, 1995). "Cures or `Quackery'?". U.S. News & World Reports. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  15. ^ [7]
  16. ^ The Wall Street Journal Online - Featured Article
  17. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 07, 1972
  18. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 04, 1974
  19. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 02, 1976
  20. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 07, 1978
  21. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 04, 1980
  22. ^ Our Campaigns - IA District 5 Race - Nov 02, 1982
  23. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate Race - Nov 06, 1984
  24. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate Race - Nov 06, 1990
  25. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US President - D Caucuses Race - Jan 21, 1992
  26. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate- D Primary Race - Jun 04, 1996
  27. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate Race - Nov 05, 1996
  28. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate - D Primary Race - Jun 04, 2002
  29. ^ Our Campaigns - IA US Senate Race - Nov 05, 2002
  30. ^ [8]

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William J. Scherle
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jim Ross Lightfoot
United States Senate
Preceded by
Roger W. Jepsen
United States Senator (Class 2) from Iowa
1985 – present
Served alongside: Charles Grassley
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Lugar
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Succeeded by
Thad Cochran
Preceded by
Saxby Chambliss
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Succeeded by
Blanche Lincoln
Preceded by
Ted Kennedy
Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
2009 – present
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
John Kerry
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Mitch McConnell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Dick Clark
Democratic nominee for United States Senator from Iowa
(Class 2)

1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2008
Succeeded by
most recent

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