Lawmaker will face challenger

Associated Press
Ben Harbin: Lawmaker last faced opposition in 2000, when Ron Beul tried to unseat him.

Two Columbia County politicians formally announced their intentions to run for public offices Tuesday.

Former Harlem Mayor Scott Dean plans to run for a recently-vacated county commission seat and teacher Lee Benedict will challenge state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, for a Georgia House seat.

Both races will conclude in a July 15 primary election.

Serving in the state Legislature since 1994, Mr. Harbin last faced opposition in 2000 when Ron Beul tried to unseat him, according to Columbia County Board of Elections officials.

Mr. Benedict blamed Mr. Harbin's recent legal troubles for depriving Columbia County of thousands of dollars in state education funding. Not long after Atlanta police charged Mr. Harbin with drunken driving after a May 2007 single-car wreck, Gov. Sonny Perdue slashed $120,000 earmarked for a foreign-language program at Stevens Creek Elementary, Mr. Benedict said.

Columbia County Republican Party Chairwoman Debbie McCord said a challenger for Mr. Harbin's seat might help Columbia County.

"I don't think it's going to make a lot of difference," Ms. McCord said. "The fact that he has a challenger will bring a little more focus on Columbia County."

Mr. Harbin said Tuesday he will appear in court on April 29 to face the DUI charge. However, Ms. McCord doubts the charge will hurt Mr. Harbin's chances for re-election.

Mr. Benedict said at his sparsely attended campaign announcement that he wants to bring some "common sense" to the state Legislature and make himself available to his constituents. Mr. Benedict's last run for a state office was last year when he lost to Bill Jackson in a June special election for the 24th District state Senate seat.

After serving five years as Harlem's mayor, Mr. Dean resigned April 5 to run for the District 4 county commission seat. Former county Commissioner Lee Anderson resigned from the office this month to run for the District 117 state House seat currently held by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. Mr. Fleming intends to oppose U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, for the District 10 congressional seat.

Mr. Dean said Tuesday that he is ideally qualified to improve relations between county officials and officials from Harlem and Grovetown. Qualifying for both races begins April 28 and will last until May 2.

Morris News Service contributed to this article.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.