Originally created 12/16/04

Harbin seeks powerful job



ATLANTA - House Republicans are staying tight-lipped as they choose committee leaders.

But some are pointing to Columbia County Rep. Ben Harbin as a strong contender to head one of the body's most powerful committees.

Mr. Harbin is among the Republican candidates who have applied for chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which would put him at the front of budget negotiations and deciding which projects get funded.

"He is one of the more senior members, so that automatically helps some. But beyond that, no, we haven't made any decisions," said Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, one of nine House Republicans who will vote on the appointments. "I think Ben will be chairman of a major committee. It's just a matter of which one, and appropriations is one of those."

Mr. Fleming said the selection team has interviewed legislators interested in heading committees but does not plan to make an announcement about appointments until Jan. 11, the day after the Legislature convenes.

Political observers said GOP leaders will have to pick someone with a background in the budgetary process to continue an orderly flow in the House, which tackles the budget first after the governor releases his proposals and sets the spending cap.

"Since committee assignments are not going to be made official until after they are sworn in, that's going to be an incredible amount of work to have to do in a very short period of time," said Matt Towery, the chairman of the political news media company InsiderAdvantage and a former Republican legislator. "I think you have to have someone who has had real live experience behind the scenes, and Ben has had that experience."

Mr. Harbin has one of the longest track records of current House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, which was controlled by Democrats before the GOP gained a majority in the November elections.

Mr. Harbin said this week that he has looked at upcoming budgetary issues but no more than he has before sessions in previous years.

As for the other senior Republican legislators from Richmond and Columbia counties, Rep. Sue Burmeister, of Augusta, will have to decide how much work she wants to add to her current position as Republican caucus secretary-treasurer.

Mr. Fleming said he will not pursue a committee chairmanship but that Mrs. Burmeister is considering some top posts.

Mr. Fleming, who once contemplated making a push for Judiciary Committee chairman, said his role as majority whip doesn't allow him time to run a committee.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 589-8424 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.