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Photograph: Bill M. Harris [Click for larger image]

Bill M. Harris

(Sept. 1, 1934 –        )

In March of 1953, Bill Harris enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, serving in the Korean War as a machine gunner and a platoon commander.  Attending the US Army Counterintelligence School after Korea, graduating first in his class, he received his commission in 1961 and served the reminder of his 23-year career with the USMC as an intelligence and counter-intelligence officer, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam.  Senator Harris retired in 1977 from the military as a major with numerous decorations for valor and outstanding service, including two bronze star awards and the Vietnam Medal of Honor.

After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of Arizona, and retiring from the Marine Corps, Maj. Harris and his family moved to Ashland, Ohio.  In 1981, he established the Bill Harris Chevrolet Dealership in Ashland.  The dealership was so successful that it become one of the first authorized multi-franchise General Motors dealerships in the United States.  Although he retired from the business in 1995, the Bill Harris Dealership franchise is still run by his three sons and their families.

While still running the auto dealership, Harris was active in the local chamber of commerce working to recruit and elect small business owners to public office.  He believed then, as he believes today, that the perspectives of business owners—individuals who have actually had to make a payroll and navigate government bureaucracy to turn a profit—are invaluable to a deliberative body like the Ohio General Assembly.  Eventually realizing that he should be willing to do what he was asking of others he decided to run for the Ohio State House of Representatives on the Republican ticket in 1994.

Though previously having never chosen to run for election, or holding a public office, Harris won handily and assumed his office in the House of Representatives on Jan. 1, 1995.  Reelected in 1996 and quickly moving up the political ladder he, in 1997 assumed the position as Majority Whip of the House.  As a member of the House he has served in a number of leadership positions.  In August of 2000, Bill Harris was appointed to the Ohio Senate, filling out the term of retiring Ohio Senator Richard P. 'Dick' Schafrath (1837- ).  While serving as a member of the Senate for the 19th Senate District, he represented the citizens of Delaware, Knox, Morrow, Richland and a portion of Ashland counties.  He assumed this position on Aug. 15, 2002, after having resigned his House of Representatives seat.

Having won a full term to the Ohio Senate seat to which he had previously been appointed, he served as the Chairman of the Ohio Senate Finance Committee and Financial Institutions Committees, influential positions in the Ohio Senate.  In 2005—ten years after first reporting for duty as a member of the House of Representatives—Senator Harris, having won the respect and esteem of colleagues, was unanimously elected to the seat of Ohio Senate President. He was reelected in 2007 and 2009.

As Senate President his primary focus was on revitalizing the economy of Ohio, and creating more job opportunities for Ohio families.  He led the effort to reform the state's outdated tax code, including the elimination of onerous business taxes that had stifled growth and innovation for years and a 21 percent income tax cut for all taxpayers. Setting his sights on higher education, and recognizing that a good education, be it at traditional four-year, a two-year community college or proprietary school, is the key to ensuring Ohioans are prepared for the jobs of a changing economy, he pushed to raise the bar on what Ohio students are expected to learn in our primary and secondary schools and then to freeze tuition at all state colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable.  In his final two years in the Senate, being forced to retire in 2010 due to term limitations, he continued his work to make Ohio more attractive for new businesses and jobs.

During his time in the legislature, Senator Harris received numerous awards, including the Watchdog of the Treasury, Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council Leadership Award, the Career & Technical Education Award, as well as the Preservation of Democracy Award.  Senator Harris was the first legislator to be named AMVETS Legislator of the Year twice.  In addition, Senator Harris was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Ashland University and the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from University of Akron.

The Senator has served as chairman of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Ashland United Way Campaign, director of the Huntington National Bank of Ashland and trustee for Samaritan Hospitals.  He currently is a member of the Board of Advisors for the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University and a member of the Board of Directors of the Ashland City Huntington Bank.

Senator Harris lives in Ashland with his wife Cay.  They have eleven grown children, sixteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.