HARRISBURG, Pa. – Gov. Tom Ridge, who saw combat as an enlisted man in Vietnam, has been called by President Bush to help lead the fight against terrorism inside the country.
Ridge, 56, was named Thursday to direct the Office of Homeland Security, a new Cabinet-level position. He will resign as governor Oct. 5, said his spokesman, Tim Reeves.
Speaking to the nation and a joint-session of Congress, the president said new realities demanded creation of the new office.
"Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level," the president said.
"And tonight, I also announce a distinguished American to lead this effort, to strengthen American security: a military veteran, an effective governor, a true patriot, a trusted friend, Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge."
Ridge was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Munhall. His family moved to Erie in the west of the state in 1948 when he was 3. His parents were politically active -- his father a Democrat, his mother a Republican.
He graduated from local Catholic schools, worked summers as a union laborer and attended Harvard University on a scholarship. He graduated with honors in 1967 and enrolled in Dickinson Law School before being drafted at the end of his first year.
Ridge was successful in his first bid for congress in 1982 and served 12 years. He was elected governor in 1994 and re-elected handily in 1998. He is barred from running again when his term expires at the end of next year.
His social agenda included welfare reform and a special legislative session on crime that gave birth to a three-strikes law and a faster death-penalty process.
Ridge has signed more than 200 execution warrants since becoming governor in 1995, including two warrants for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of a Philadelphia police officer whose case is a well-known cause among anti-death penalty activists.
Ridge was twice mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for vice president -- for a brief period during the early days of Bob Dole's run for the presidency in 1996 and more prominently as a potential running mate for candidate Bush.
When Bush announced in the summer that Dick Cheney would be his vice-presidential candidate, Ridge said he had withdrawn his name from consideration three weeks earlier.
Ridge and his wife, Michele, have two adoptive children.