Joe Frank Harris (b. 1936)
Early Political Career
Born on February 16, 1936, Joe Frank Harris is the second son of Frances and Franklin Harris. Harris's family lived near the small town of Atco, near Cartersville in Bartow County. In 1958 Harris graduated from the University of Georgia and returned home to work in his family's concrete business. In 1964 a group of local leaders persuaded him to run for the Georgia House of Representatives. Although initially reluctant to involve himself in politics, Harris agreed to run and won office, ultimately serving nine consecutive terms. As a member of the General Assembly, Harris was a workhorse who made himself a specialist on budgetary issues. By 1974 Harris had become the second-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. When the chair of the committee died that year, Speaker Tom Murphy ultimately named Harris the chair. By 1982 Harris had so gained the respect of Murphy that the Speaker backed Harris in his gubernatorial bid.
In 1982 Harris ran for governor in a field of four Democrats headlined by Congressman Bo Ginn,
Harris's most visible achievement as governor was a sweeping reform of public education. The program,
Another notable achievement of the Harris administration was the funding of a sports arena, the Georgia Dome, which was ultimately the site of Super Bowl XXVII and a venue in the 1996 Olympics. Harris had played an instrumental role in securing Atlanta's bid for the Olympics. The administration also undertook an ambitious program to fund four-lane major highways around the state. The expansion of the state highway system was made possible by an economic and population boom in Georgia during Harris's tenure as governor. Although critics had often charged him with being too passive, Harris had notable successes as governor.
James F. Cook, The Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004, 3d ed. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005).
Scott E. Buchanan, Columbus State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.