COLUMBIA - Since he became a state representative in 1993, Charleston Republican Bobby Harrell has worked toward his goal of becoming speaker of the House.
Mr. Harrell will resign as chairman of the House budget-writing committee Tuesday and give up his seat on the five-member state Budget and Control Board, which handles billions of dollars in spending and borrowing decisions each year, as he reaches his goal.
"I think everybody that's elected to the House wants to be elected speaker," he says.
On June 2, Mr. Harrell won the race to replace House Speaker David Wilkins, the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, with a 118-1 vote.
Even though he didn't fit the lawyer-lawmaker mold of past speakers, many people started viewing Mr. Harrell as Mr. Wilkins' heir apparent as early as 1999, when he took over the Ways and Means Committee.
"He's been a student of people," said Mr. Harrell's father, Robert Harrell Sr. "His whole life, he will absolutely watch you and figure you out and wait until the time is right to ask you for what he wants to ask for."
It's a good trait for politicians and salesmen.
"Everything we do in life," the speaker-elect says, "revolves around relationships and understanding people. ... I believe in order to be successful at anything, you have to first understand what motivates other people in the process."
While in college, Mr. Harrell worked with his insurance-agent father. It's one of the ways he kept close ties to his family and settled on a profession.
Charlotte Harrell says her son was a happy child who cherished time with his family.
"Family is your sanctuary when you're having difficult times politically or in business. Family ... is the place where I go back and everybody loves you and everybody cares about you," Mr. Harrell says.
Mr. Harrell wants to set up a special House committee to work on tax system changes this fall.
"I want us to focus on property taxes," he said. That is "the most important issue to people of this state."
That might create friction with Gov. Mark Sanford, who maintains that lowering the state's top income tax rate is more important because it will attract wealthy executives and retirees.
Since Mr. Sanford took office in 2003, he's clashed with Mr. Harrell over the budget, fiscal policy, taxes and politics.
Mr. Harrell says there's nothing personal and "certainly no animosity on my part, and I don't think on his part either."
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