Joe Frank Harris: Personal Reflections on a Public Life

Joe Frank Harris was a quiet Governor who made substantial changes throughout the state of Georgia. His political career began in 1964 when a delegation of Bartow Countians urged him to run for a seat in the Georgia Legislature. After winning the seat, he mastered the rules of the House as he looked out for the interests of his constituents. Considered too easygoing and soft-spoken to chair the Appropriations Committee, Harris nevertheless took control of the job as chairman and earned the respect of Speaker Tom Murphy and other members of the House. Harris surprised the political experts and won his first attempt to become Governor of Georgia. He quietly achieved his goals during his first term and won such high regard throughout the state that he was easily elected to a second term. Among Harris's many accomplishments as Governor of Georgia, perhaps his greatest achievement was the reform of the state's educational system. Other milestones included making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a holiday, building a domed stadium in Atlanta, passing a mandatory seat-belt law, and helping lure the Democratic National Convention to Atlanta in 1988.