Harlan Mathews (January 17, 1927 – May 9, 2014) was a Democratic United States Senator from Tennessee from 1993 to 1994. He had previously served in the executive and legislative branches of state government in Tennessee for over 40 years beginning in 1950.
Mathews joined Tennessee state government in 1950, becoming part of the staff of the governor of Tennessee, successively serving governors Gordon Browning, Frank G. Clement, and Buford Ellington. In 1961 he was named to the Cabinet as Commissioner of Finance and Administration, a position he held until 1971.
With the accession to office of Republican Winfield Dunn in January 1971, Mathews left the Cabinet and entered the private sector for two years, working for Amcon International in Memphis.In 1973 he became the legislative assistant to the longtime Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Bill Snodgrass. In 1974 he was elected state treasurer by the Tennessee General Assembly when his predecessor, Tom Wiseman, resigned to run for governor. The Tennessee General Assembly elected him to his first full two-year term as treasurer in 1975, and he served in this office until January 1987, when he became deputy to the newly elected governor, Ned R. McWherter.
Mathews’ service in the Senate was of a decidedly low-key nature; he largely supported the Democratic agenda of President Clinton and the then-majority in the Senate. The passion for the contest for the Democratic senatorial nomination to succeed him was quelled somewhat when it became apparent that the Republican nominee would be attorney and prominent actor Fred Thompson. The highest-profile Democrat to enter the primary was Representative Jim Cooper, who was the eventual nominee and lost to Thompson in a landslide.
Thompson was sworn into office in December 1994 in order to give him a slight advantage in seniority over other Senators elected in that year, as is traditionally done when someone is elected to the balance of an unexpired term. Mathews left office as quietly as he had served in it and then practiced law in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mathews died of brain cancer on May 9, 2014 at a hospice in Nashville.He is survived by his wife, Pat Mathews and two sons. A third son, Richard Mathews, had preceded him in death.