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HARRIS, Katherine

HARRIS, Katherine
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office


The 2000 presidential ballot recount in Florida thrust Katherine Harris into the national spotlight in her role as the state’s chief election officer, but it also obscured her meteoric career and deep political roots. Having worked to bring business to Florida both as a state senator and as secretary of state, Harris won election to the U.S. House in 2002 and secured seats on the influential Financial Services; International Relations; and Homeland Security Committees.

Katherine Harris was born on April 5, 1957, at the Key West Naval Base in Florida to George Walter Harris, a banking executive, and Harriett Griffin Harris. Katherine Harris is the granddaughter of Ben Hill Griffin Jr., a citrus magnate and Democratic state senator. She attended Bartow High School and graduated in 1979 from Agnes Scott College with a BA in history; she later earned an MPA from Harvard in 1996. After graduating from college, Harris worked as a marketing executive for a major computer corporation and then served as vice president of a Sarasota commercial real estate company. In 1996 she married Anders Ebbeson, a business executive, and they raised one child, Louise.1

Harris decided to enter politics in 1994 when she made a successful run for the Florida state senate. During her four years as a state legislator, she chaired the commerce and economic development committee. In 1998 Harris successfully ran for the Florida secretary of state post and was responsible primarily for handling corporate filings and implementing state election procedures. She used her office to attract international business, the arts, and historic preservation into the state. In 2000 she was named the Florida co-chair for the George W. Bush presidential campaign. Harris garnered national attention as Florida’s top election official during the state’s historic ballot recount that eventually decided the election in George W. Bush’s favor by a slender margin. In 2002 she published a book about the experience, Center of the Storm.2

In 2002, when five-term GOP Representative Daniel Miller retired from Florida’s west central gulf coast district seat encompassing much of Sarasota and Bradenton, Harris declared her candidacy to replace him. Harris had the advantage of a longtime connection to the area as a patron of the arts and civic philanthropist. She won the GOP primary by more than a two-to-one margin. Harris, who faced Democratic challenger Jan Schneider, ran on a general election platform that broadly supported the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, including increased defense spending. Harris also backed tax cuts, school vouchers, and medical savings accounts. And she opposed U.S. funding for United Nations family planning programs.3 In the general election, she defeated Schneider by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. In 2004 Harris won re-election, again defeating Schneider by an identical margin.4

In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Harris received committee assignments on Financial Services and International Relations. She had three subcommittee appointments for Financial Services: Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises; Housing and Community Opportunity; and Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology. Harris also held two subcommittee assignments on the International Relations Committee. She served as vice chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and held a seat on the Middle East and Central Asia Subcommittee as well. In the 109th Congress (2005–2007), party leadership tapped her for a seat on the Republican Policy Committee, which set the GOP’s agenda in the House, and made her an Assistant Whip, where she helped gauge support for different legislation with the party conference. In the 109th Congress, she also received a seat on the Homeland Security Committee.5

During her first year in the House, Harris supported a major Republican effort to overhaul Medicare and create a prescription drug benefit, as well as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act which outlawed certain abortion procedures except in cases where it was used to save a woman’s life.6 In 2003 Harris sponsored the American Dream Downpayment Act to provide low-income homebuyers with an average of $5,000 to help them purchase their first home. The bill was designed to close what the House Financial Services Committee called the “homeownership opportunity gap” and help underserved communities build wealth. President Bush signed the Senate version of her bill into law in December 2003.7

Key provisions of her Carlie’s Law legislation, which made any sexual crime or crime against children a crime of violence, were included in the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which became law in 2006.8 Harris also backed a budget resolution that called for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years and ended up voting for a $330 billion 10-year tax cut. Also in line with her campaign promises, she supported a measure to create a pilot private school voucher program in Washington, DC, that supporters hoped would become the basis for a national program.9

In 2006 Harris announced she would challenge incumbent Florida Democratic Senator Clarence William (Bill) Nelson. Harris won the Republican primary, but her campaign struggled to gain traction in the general election and was able to match only half of the incumbent’s $18 million in funding. In November, Nelson defeated Harris by a wide margin, 60 to 38 percent.10


1Stephen Smith, “Secretary of State Harris’ Ambitions Were Shaped By Family; Grandfather Was a Legislator, While Father Is a Bank Executive,” 22 November 2000, Miami Herald: 19A; “Katherine Harris,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present,; Anita Kumar, “Katherine Harris’ Most Steadfast Supporter,” 20 October 2006, St. Petersburg Times (FL): 1A.

2Kyle Parks, “Florida’s Secretary of State Talks International Trade,” 20 August 1999, St. Petersburg Times: n.p.; Smith, “Secretary of State Harris’ Ambitions Were Shaped By Family”; Michael Cooper, “Counting the Vote: The Secretary of State; Florida Official Has Dual Roles In a Maelstrom,” 14 November 2000, New York Times: A1.

3Manuel Riog–Franzia, “The Last Laugh: Florida’s Katherine Harris Knows About Winning Elections. Just Count the Ballots,” 19 October 2002, Washington Post: C1.

4Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."

5Congressional Directory, 109th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2004): 448; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Select, Joint) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present."

6Janet Hook and Vicki Kemper, “A Long Night’s Journey Into Yes In the House,” 23 November 2003, Los Angeles Times: A28; Frank Davies, “Bill Could Help Republicans At Polls,” 19 November 2003, Miami Herald: 3A; Anita Kumar, “From Infamous to Influential,” 1 January 2006, St. Petersburg Times: 1A.

7American Dream Downpayment Act, H.R. 1276, 108th Cong. (2003); House Committee on Financial Services, American Dream Downpayment Act, 108th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. 164 (2003): 3–4; American Dream Downpayment Act, PL 108-186, 117 Stat. 2685 (2003).

8Carlie’s Law, H.R. 4150, 108th Cong. (2004); Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, PL 109-248, 120 Stat. 587 (2006).

9Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 243.

10“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

Harris, Katherine. Center of the Storm: Practicing Principled Leadership in Times of Crisis. Nashville, TN.: WND Books, 2002.

"Katherine Harris" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Financial Services
  • House Committee - Government Reform
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
  • House Committee - International Relations
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