Senator Tom Harkin (ret.)
In 1974, Tom Harkin was elected to Congress from Iowa's Fifth Congressional District.
His energetic, person-to-person campaign carried the day against an incumbent in a
longstanding Republican district. In 1984, after serving 10 years in the U.S. House of
Representatives, he challenged an incumbent senator and won. Iowans returned him to
the Senate in 1990, 1996 and again in 2002. In November 2008, Senator Harkin made
history by becoming the first Iowa Democrat to win a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. He
retired from the United States Senate in January 2015.
Senator Harkin was tapped by Senator Ted Kennedy to craft legislation to protect the
civil rights of millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities. He knew
firsthand about the challenges faced by people with disabilities from his late brother,
Frank, who was deaf from an early age. What emerged from that process would later
become his signature legislative achievement — The Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA has become known as the "Emancipation Proclamation for people with
disabilities." The legislation changed the landscape of America by requiring buildings
and transportation to be wheelchair accessible, and to provide workplace
accommodations for people with disabilities. To preserve the intent of the ADA after
several court rulings weakened its standards, Senator Harkin and Senator Orrin Hatch
(R-UT) introduced the ADA Amendments bill to ensure continuing protections from
discrimination for all Americans with disabilities. It was signed into law in September
2008. In September 2009, Senator Harkin became chairman of the Senate Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Tom Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa (pop. 150) on November 19, 1939, the son of
an Iowa coal miner father and a Slovenian immigrant mother. To this day, he still lives in
the house in Cumming where he was born. In 1968, Tom married Ruth Raduenz, the
daughter of a farmer and a school teacher from Minnesota. Tom and Ruth have two
daughters, Amy and Jenny, and three grandchildren.