Politics & Government

Ties to S. Carolina's Jim Clyburn may help as Obama era dawns

WASHINGTON — As President-elect Barack Obama forms his new administration, it helps to have a friend — or a father — in Jim Clyburn, if you want part of the action.

The House majority whip's eldest daughter, Mignon Clyburn, is on the short list to head the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates television, radio and, increasingly, the Internet.

Other Clyburn allies cited as possible Obama administration officials include House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, a York Democrat, and Inez Tenenbaum, a former S. C. public schools superintendent and U.S. Senate candidate.

Clyburn himself has been mentioned as a potential secretary of housing and urban development under Obama, but aides say the Columbia Democrat is not interested in leaving his current job as the No. 3 leader of the House.

"I understand she is being recommended to the Obama administration by her colleagues in the field," Rep. Jim Clyburn said of his daughter. "To the extent to which I am asked, I will offer my opinions about all South Carolinians that may be under consideration for various positions."

Mignon Clyburn, 46, is a member of the SC Public Service Commission, which oversees public utilities and transit systems in South Carolina. She is the oldest of Jim and Emily Clyburn's three daughters.

"For the record, I have no comment," Mignon Clyburn said when asked whether Obama's transition team has contacted her about the FCC post.

Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, endorsed Obama in his bruising Democratic primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Clinton, though his support came later than that of some other Democratic congressional leaders.

Jaime Harrison, a longtime Clyburn aide who was floor director of his House whip operation the last two years, has just been hired by the powerful Washington lobbying firm headed by John Podesta, who is leading Obama's transition to power.

"The Podesta Group may be the most diverse lobbying shop in town," Harrison said. "I will be the fifth African-American partner at the firm. That is almost unheard of."

Harrison, 32, said he discussed the job offer with Clyburn before accepting it.

"He said, 'Jaime, I will be supportive of you whatever you decide to do,'" Harrison recalled Friday. "He gave me pointers. We discussed the upsides and the downsides. I was really appreciative because his thoughts are very important to me."

Harrison, an Orangeburg native with degrees from Yale College and Georgetown Law School, said one benefit of his new job is that he won't have to log as many of the 12-hour workdays he routinely worked as he helped Clyburn corral votes on the House floor.

"I won't be sleeping on my couch in my office, which is not comfortable," Harrison said.

Congressional ethics rules prohibit Harrison from using his new post, which he'll start Dec. 1, to lobby Clyburn or other congressional leaders during his first year on the job.

Harrison earns slightly more than $100,000 in his current post under Clyburn. His lobbying job carries a significant raise, but he declined to disclose how large. He hopes to focus on lobbying for universities and other educational institutions.

Spratt, completing his 13th House term, is being floated as possible director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which would make him Obama's top budget aide.

Spratt, 66, became chairman of the House Budget Committee in January 2007 when the Democrats assumed House control.

Tenenbaum, 57, became the first elected official in South Carolina to endorse Obama for president in February 2007, a month after she left her post as the state's top public schools official.

Tenenbaum, who served on Obama's education advisory council for most of the last two years, is viewed as a long-shot candidate to be secretary of education in his Cabinet.

"I have been mentioned, but I am not in contact with the transition team about it," she said Friday. "It would be an honor to serve in an Obama administration. He has the potential, because of the movement he's created, to transform public education in America."

Harrison said he first met Obama when the Illinois senator came to South Carolina to campaign for Tenenbaum in her unsuccessful 2004 race against Sen. Jim DeMint. Obama was also running for the Senate but faced token opposition.

Obama's election last week as the nation's first black president was "an amazing experience" for Harrison.

"I was just in shock and disbelief that it actually happened," he said. "I'm extremely happy and extremely proud. I think he's going to be a great president."