Vance Smith eyes top DOT post

State Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, is going after his biggest road project yet.

Smith, who owns a Harris County construction and grading company and has been in the Georgia General Assembly for 15 years, has applied to become the next commissioner of the Department of Transportation. It is considered one of the most powerful jobs in the state because all state road projects and funding for those projects go through the commissioner's office.

"I have been interested in it a long time," Smith said Thursday afternoon. "I applied for it four and half years ago."

The job came open last week when Harold Linnenkohl, who has been the commissioner for the last four years, announced he will retire effective Nov. 30.

The commissioner is selected by the 13-member DOT board, which is comprised of a representative from each of the state's Congressional districts. Retired Columbus Bank & Trust President Sam Wellborn is on that board, representing the Second Congressional District.

Smith's run at the job could pit him against Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who appear to be pushing Gena Abraham, who leads the Georgia Building Authority. An ajc.com blog reported on Friday, an e-mail sent by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle advised state senators, even though they are not directly involved in the selection, to pay close attention to the process.

"You may have read that our State Properties Officer, Dr. Gena Abraham, has been discussed as a possible replacement for Commissioner Linnekohl. While this is a decision that will ultimately be made by the board, I want to make you aware that I have a very high opinion of Gena."

Smith, one of Perdue's floor leaders in the House, said he met with the governor last week to let him know he was interested in the job.

"He told me that was the person he is recommending," Smith said. "I know her. We worked together on the Kia project. She is a knowledgable and capable person. I have an interest. She has an interest."

Smith said the purpose of his meeting with the governor was to let him know his intentions.

"The governor and I are fiends, been friends and are still friends," Smith said. "He has his recommendation. I just let him know where I stood, that I was going for an interview."

Smith's passion has been transportation. He has been on the House Transportation Committee his entire time in the General Assembly and has chaired that committee the last three years.

If he is elected to the commissioner's post, he will have to give up his District 129 seat.

Two members of the Columbus-area legislative delegation — Sen. Seth Harp, R-Columbus and Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus.