1979 – Begins first term as a U.S. Congressman from the Fifteenth District, Pennsylvania
Donald Lawrence Ritter's technical background and fluent Russian placed him in a unique category among fellow politicians during his tenure as a U.S. Congressman. He was appointed to a number of committees on technology and became a leading proponent of improving relations with Afghanistan.
Youth and Early Career
Ritter was born in New York City on October 21, 1940. He attended public schools in the Bronx and came to Lehigh following high school. In 1961, he graduated with a B.S. in metallurgical engineering. He spent six years as a research assistant at MIT where he received his M.S. in 1963 and his Sc.D. in 1966, both in metallurgical engineering.
Ritter began a career in academia following completion of his studies at MIT. For one year he was a scientific exchange fellow for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences-Soviet Academy of Sciences at the Baikov Institute in Moscow. In 1968, he became an assistant professor at California State Polytechnic University, but left in 1969 to join Lehigh's metallurgy department and administration. He was a faculty member and assistant to the Vice President for Research for the next seven years and then became manager of research program development from 1976 to 1979. While at Lehigh, he also worked as an engineering consultant to industry. Ritter has since received the Metallurgy and Materials science Department's "Distinguished Alumni Award" and has been awarded "Distinguished Life Membership" by the American Society for Metals.
From Engineer to Politician
In 1978, Ritter ran as the Republican candidate for the Fifteenth District, Pennsylvania to the U.S. House of Representatives, an area that includes Northampton and Lehigh Counties. He began his first of seven consecutive terms in the House following his election in 1979. As a senior member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the oldest legislative standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ritter was respected for his expertise founded on an education in engineering. He also was an active member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Beyond his role in promoting greater use of science in the regulatory process and his focus on promoting U.S. technogy interests, Ritter's greatest impact came through his role as the ranking House Republican for the Helsinki Commission, also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. His fluent Russian made him the founder of the Congressional Task Force on Afghanistan that aided the South Asian country's liberation from the Soviet military during the 1980s.
Ritter was defeated in his reelection bid in 1992 but remained active in politics and industry. He is a leader in the current Afghanistan human rights debate and is a senior advisor to the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce, a group characterized as the "primary independent voice in the development of a market economy in that country." He is also founder of the Washington, D.C. based Afghanistan-America Foundation, "a non-profit organization dedicated to helping rebuild a new Afghanistan." From 1993-2002, he was Chairman and President of the National Environmental Policy Institute, a group that lobbied for greater science and risk assessment in the legislative proces and the engagement of constituencies outside of Washington: from the States, cities and localities. Ritter occasionally appears on national television news programs as a political analyst, Afghanistan expert and has appeared before House committees as a testifying expert.