Thomas Joseph Ridge
Tom Ridge, the forty-third governor of Pennsylvania, was thrust into the national spotlight in October 2001 when he was sworn in as the head of the newly created Office of Homeland Security. President GEORGE W. BUSH had established the office shortly after the SEPTEMBER 11TH TERRORIST ATTACKS on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In January 2003, Ridge became the first Secretary of the HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT, which was established after 22 domestic agencies were merged in the most significant reformation of the U.S. government since President HARRY S. TRUMAN's 1947 merger of disparate branches of the U.S. armed forces into the DEFENSE DEPARTMENT (formerly known as the War Department).
Thomas Joseph Ridge was born August 26, 1945, in Munhill, part of Pittsburgh's Steel Valley. He grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his family lived in a public housing project. Hardworking and ambitious, Ridge attended Harvard
University, graduating in 1967 with a B.A. in government studies. He started classes at Dickinson School of Law but received his draft notice that summer. Although he could have been trained as an officer with a three-year commitment, Ridge chose instead to be trained as an infantryman so that he could serve for two years and return to law school. He went to Vietnam, where he quickly rose to the position of staff sergeant and received several awards, including the Bronze Star for Valor.
Ridge returned to law school in 1970 and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1972. He worked in private practice and handled cases for the public defender's office. From 1979 to 1982, he served as an assistant Erie County district attorney. Running as a moderate Republican in a swing district, Ridge was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, where he served until 1994.
In 1994, Ridge ran as the Republican candidate for governor. Campaigning on a platform that advocated school choice, reducing taxes, and cracking down on crime, Ridge was elected by a margin of five percent. In 1998, he was reelected by a margin of 26 percent. The 780,000-vote difference marked the largest vote for a Republican governor in Pennsylvania's history.
During his tenure as governor, Ridge supported a limited form of ABORTION rights, but also presided over a special session that led to a "three-strikes" law and hastened the state's death-penalty process. In 2000, Ridge signed the largest tax cut in the history of the state. That same year, Ridge's name was mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice until George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney.
In the days and weeks that followed the September 11th attacks, the Bush administration moved quickly to deal with Al-Qaeda, the organization thought to be behind the terrorist attacks. In addition, the administration sought to reassure an American public that was stunned and alarmed by the strategy and subsequent loss of life that had taken place. The administration established the Office of Homeland Security and created the position of director (and White House Security Adviser) who was charged with developing, coordinating, and overseeing a comprehensive national strategy aimed at strengthening the domestic defenses of the country and its citizens. On October 8, 2001, President Bush swore in Ridge as the first Director of Homeland Security, praising Ridge's strength and experience.
Heeding calls from many sources to upgrade the newly created office to cabinet level, Congress passed legislation that reformulated the Office of Homeland Security as the HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMTNENT (DHS). On January 24, 2003, Ridge was sworn in as the first Secretary of the new department. As such, he will oversee the coordination of 22 agencies and 180,000 employees as they transition from other departments and areas of government into a unified department that will have responsibility for improving security of the nation's borders and airports; providing for analysis of threats and intelligence; protecting the nation's infrastructure; including highways, bridges, ports, and nuclear facilities; and coordinating a comprehensive response in time of national emergencies.
In the early part of 2003, the DHS and its new secretary faced criticism from members of Congress and state and local governments, the media, and the public. Some poked fun at the department's color-coded threat-advisory procedure, while others complained that the federal government was burdening cities and states with expensive and time-consuming plans for strengthening domestic security while not providing federal funds needed to carry out the plans.