Originally created 09/13/98

Frank LoMonte: Who will advise Georgia's new governor? 091398 - The Augusta Chronicle



OVER THE next eight weeks, gubernatorial candidates Guy Millner and Roy Barnes will spend $6 million or so telling TV viewers what they think.

But who tells them what to think?

Georgia hasn't had a new governor since 1991, and the departure of Gov. Zell Miller will leave more than a pair of empty cowboy boots. It'll also leave scores of appointed policy-making jobs to be filled by Barnes or Millner loyalists.

"The two most important hires are executive secretary and budget director, because they will run your state government for you," said Steve Wrigley, Miller's former chief aide, now a policy researcher at the University of Georgia.

A GOVERNOR'S hiring decisions far outlast his term. His appointees will be positioned to lead the state for a generation, the way Miller got started as executive secretary to Gov. Lester Maddox 30 years ago.

When Miller had a sensitive job to fill, he turned to people he was comfortable with from longtime associations.

Three state department head jobs and three seats on the Board of Regents went to former Democratic senators who had served when Miller was Senate president. The budget director and state labor commissioner's positions went to former campaign workers who had been pupils from Miller's college professor days.

NEITHER BARNES nor Millner would arrive in January with that kind of ready-made network. Who would make up the inner circle is a guessing game -- one that is maddening Capitol lobbyists, who want to start greasing up the right people now.

A safe bet is that Barnes law-firm partner Bobby Kahn would get a top advisory job. A Savannah native, Kahn worked in the governor's office in the Joe Frank Harris administration and has managed both of Barnes' campaigns for governor.

A BEHIND-THE-SCENES adviser is former Georgia Tech footballer and broadcaster Kim King, a real-estate developer. King wouldn't take a paying Capitol job, but might replace Miller's banker buddy Virgil Williams in the honorary role of chief of staff.

If Millner wins, a central role is likely for David Shafer, his former campaign manager and a former deputy state insurance commissioner. Shafer was the GOP's 1996 nominee for secretary of state and has been a campaign strategist for Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

Beyond there, the outlook gets murky.

A Millner-supplied list of "kitchen cabinet" confidants includes mainly business associates from his days as chairman of Norrell, the Atlanta-based temp service he helped found.

Millner also regularly seeks advice from Atlanta business lions such as Charlie Loudermilk of Aaron Rents, Parker "Pete" Pettit of Healthdyne, and Joe Rogers Jr. of Waffle House.

The Republican nominee has few close friends in the General Assembly, where most legislators supported his primary opponent, Michael Bowers. Still, he might tap legislative veterans for sensitive appointments, because so few Republicans have experience in the executive branch.

THOUGH MILLNER would want to put his own stamp on state government, don't expect a blood bath if he takes over.

It won't be easy finding qualified Republicans willing to work for state pay. The names of former senators Arthur "Skin" Edge and Chuck Clay turn up on everybody's hiring wish lists, but both are successful attorneys with young children, unlikely to leap at $75,000 salaries.

"I DON'T SEE him coming in with a meat cleaver and axing everybody who ever worked for Zell Miller," said Bobby Baker, a Republican member of the Public Service Commission.

Despite his 22 years of General Assembly service, Barnes has few longstanding allies in the state bureaucracy. His most trusted advisers are former legislative colleagues such as Denmark Groover of Macon, a well-known attorney.

A state parole board member, former Sen. Walter Ray of Douglas, has let it be known he'd like a more prominent role in a Barnes administration. He's a potential replacement for Wayne Garner as head of the Department of Corrections.

Barnes remains close with his mentor, former Gov. Harris, and might draw on former Harris aides such as Tommy Lewis, now a vice president at Georgia State University.

BUT BECAUSE Barnes comes from Republican-heavy Cobb County, has active Republicans in his law firm and would have to govern with a more Republican-heavy legislature, some GOP faces in the inner sanctum wouldn't be a surprise.

"I don't think he would necessarily hire close friends or people in the in-crowd. It's more important to Roy that they share his ideals and have experience," said Lewis, who was Harris' executive secretary.

"IS IT POSSIBLE we could see some Republican faces? Yes, because he's got some Republican support. I have no doubt you'll see their influence in his administration."

Frank LoMonte covers politics inGeorgia for Morris News Service.