O'Hara, J. G. (James G.), 1948-

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James O'Hara was a Democratic congressman from the 7th and 12th districts of Michigan from 1959 to 1976. As a member of the Education and Labor Committee O'Hara was involved in shaping much of the major labor and education legislation enacted during the period. He came to be regarded as one of the principal spokesmen for organized labor in the House and was recognized as an expert on House rules and legislative tactics. O'Hara was an active participant in reform movements within the House and in the national Democratic Party. He was a founding member of the House Democratic Study Group and chaired the Democratic National Committee's Commission on Rules, 1969-1972. O'Hara gave up his seat in the House of Representatives to run for the United States Senate in 1976.

James Grant O'Hara was born November 8. 1925 in Washington, DC His family moved to Detroit when he was fourteen and O'Hara graduated from Detroit University High School in 1943. O'Hara then enlisted in the army, serving with Company B, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the llth Airborne Division. He saw combat action as a paratrooper in the Pacific theater. After his discharge from the army in April 1946, O'Hara enrolled in the University of Michigan. He received his bachelor degree in 1954 and a law degree in 1955. O'Hara married Susan Puskas in 1953 and is the father of seven children. From 1955 to 1958 O'Hara practiced law in Detroit.

O'Hara made his first bid for elective office in 1958. He secured the Democratic Party nomination for Congress from the 7th district by winning a narrow victory in the primary election. O'Hara then won the general election in the traditionally Republican district by a margin of 2768 votes. O'Hara was reelected in 1960 by a margin of 18,000 votes. Thereafter his electoral victories were generally by margins of two or three to one. The sole exception was the 1972 campaign when the effects of redistricting, a weak Democratic national ticket, and the divisive busing issue resulted in a victory margin of less than 3000 votes.

The 7th congressional district, which O'Hara represented from 1959-1962, consisted of Macomb, Huron, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. In the redistricting of 1962 a new 12th district was consisting of Macomb County and a small part of Wayne County. O'Hara elected to establish his residence in the 12th district and represented the area from 1963-1976. The 12th district was enlarged in 1972 to include all of Macomb County except Sterling Heights and part of Warren City, St. Clair County, Avon township in Oakland County, and Buell, Fremont, and Worth townships in Sanilac County.

In his freshman term O'Hara was assigned to the Education and Labor Committee and played a significant role in the attempts to soften the anti-labor features of the Landrum-Griffin bill. He served on the Education and Labor Committee for his entire congressional career, eventually becoming one of the ranking Democratic members. He chaired a special subcommittee on migrant labor, 1971-1972, and the Special Subcommittee on Higher Education, 1973-1976. As chair of the latter subcommittee O'Hara received national attention for his work on revision of the student financial assistance programs and the control of college tuition costs.

O'Hara also served on the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 1967-1974, and on the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, 1973-1974. In 1973 O'Hara was appointed to the special "Hansen Committee" on reorganization of the House. Among its other recommendations, the Hansen Committee called for the creation of a House Budget Committee and the establishment of the Congressional Budget Office. In the 94th Congress O'Hara gave up his seat on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee to accept a position on the new Budget Committee.

During his second term in Congress, O'Hara was elected to serve as regional Democratic whip for Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He held that position throughout his career and came to be recognized as one of the Democrat's most skilled floor leaders and legislative strategists. O'Hara was one of the leaders of the group of younger, generally liberal congressmen who led the fight to revive and reform the House Democratic caucus and to challenge the absolute authority of committee chairmen under the seniority system. In 1971 O'Hara waged an unsuccessful campaign for majority leader of the House.

A founding member of the Democratic Study Group in 1959, O'Hara served as vice chairman of the liberal reform group in 1965-1966 and as chairman in 1967-1968. O'Hara also participated in the Conference of Great Lakes Congressmen and was elected to succeed John Blatnik as chairman of the group in the 94th Congress.

O'Hara served on a number of national Democratic Party committees and commissions. He was frequently a delegate to the party's national convention and served on the credentials committee of the 1968 convention. After the disruptions of the 1968 convention, O'Hara was appointed by the Democratic National Committee to head a Commission on Party Rules. The Commission, which held hearings and meetings from 1969-1972, was charged with making recommendations for the rules and procedures for the 1972 Democratic convention. O'Hara was chairman of the 1972 Convention Rules Committee and also acted as parliamentarian for the convention.

Following the 1972 convention O'Hara was appointed to the Democratic Party Charter Commission headed by Terry Sanford. He was also a member of the Commission on the Selection of Vice Presidential Candidates. Though not a member of the Mikulski Commission on Delegate Selection, O'Hara worked closely with it and later served on the Compliance Review Commission charged with enforcing the Mikulski Commission's delegate selection guidelines for the 1976 party convention.

O'Hara was a charter member and national co-chairman of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. This organization of "regular Democrats" was formed in the aftermath of the landslide defeat the Democratic party suffered in 1972. It was opposed to the "new politics" represented by the McGovern faction of the party and sought to revise the reforms instituted after the 1968 convention.

In 1976 O'Hara sought the Democratic Party nomination for United States senator to succeed the retiring Phil Hart. O'Hara lost the primary election to Donald Riegle and Richard Austin. After finishing out his term in the 94th Congress O'Hara returned to the practice of law. He died March 13, 1989.

From the guide to the James G. O'Hara papers, 1958-1987, 1958-1976, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Democratic Party of Michigan records, 1932-2008, 1950-1994 Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Paul A. Freund papers Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf James G. O'Hara papers, 1958-1987, 1958-1976 Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Stellanova Osborn papers, 1907-1988 Bentley Historical Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States


Birth 1948




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