Best of BirminghamWatch 2021

Best of BirminghamWatch 2021: Politics

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. (Source: Senate office via Twitter)

‘For everything there is a season’: Richard Shelby Declines Senate Reelection Run in 2022

Sen. Richard Shelby, who has represented Alabama in the United States Congress since 1979 and in the Senate since 1987, has decided that his sixth and current term will be his last.

Shelby made the announcement on the Senate floor Monday, and also released it through his official Senate website. It was a call that many political observers in Alabama had expected when the Democrats took the majority after winning Georgia’s two Senate seats in runoff elections early in January.

“For everything there is a season,” Shelby said to begin his speech.

“I have done my best to address challenges and find ways to improve the day-to-day lives of all Americans. I have also focused on the economic challenges of Alabamians, increasing access to education and promoting facilities to improve the quality of schools.

“I have worked to enhance Alabama’s role in space exploration and the security of our nation. Further, I have supported the utilization of Alabama’s greatest resources, including its unparalleled river system and the Port of Mobile.”

As the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Shelby used his political muscle to steer federal funds to his home state. Recently, he has used his influence to try to move the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Huntsville. But the GOP loss of the majority cost Shelby his role as chairman of the committee, and much of the influence that goes with it.

Over his six terms, Shelby has served as either chairman or vice chairman — depending on which party held the majority at the time — of the Appropriations, Rules, Banking and Intelligence committees.

Former state legislator Steve Flowers, whose weekly column about Alabama politics is carried in dozens of newspapers, summed up succinctly what Shelby’s loss will mean to Alabama: “Richard Shelby is irreplaceable.”

“In 2015, I wrote a book about Alabama political history, and in that book I had a chapter called ‘Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.’ In that list was Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby. If I were to write that book today, Richard Shelby would be in a league by himself,” Flowers said. “Alabama’s going to be lost without Shelby. We will almost evaporate as a state.”

In a time when the old political saying “bringing home the bacon” has fallen out of favor, Shelby continued to do so without apology, but also without publicity. Rare is the press release or social media post from his office touting a spending bill that benefitted the state, even though there have been ample opportunities. Because of that, many Alabamians are unaware of the scope of federal money that flowed to the state because of Shelby’s work, Flowers said.

“They may never realize or appreciate what he’s done for Alabama. The importance of being chairman of the Appropriations Committee, nobody from Alabama will probably ever share that again,” Flowers said. “The state docks widening in Mobile — Richard Shelby. The reason that Redstone Arsenal has the number one telecommunications technology place in America is Richard Shelby. UAB is a major research player in America and the largest employer in the state of Alabama, and if you take Shelby out of the equation, it’s not. I’m talking about this year over $500 million going to Redstone Arsenal for only one reason — Richard Shelby. There’s been $785 million in the last five years into UAB research that will be gone — it’ll be gone in three years — because of one man, Richard Shelby.”

Even with the change in the majority last month, Shelby still commands wide influence in part because of his bipartisan relationship with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee beside Shelby. The two men swapped places with the majority change.

Flowers said that Leahy and Shelby have shared a close friendship for years, and that Shelby always looked out for Leahy and his constituents when Republicans were in charge.

Shelby’s days on Capitol Hill were numbered simply by his age, no matter which party is in control. A run for a seventh term would have come just after his 87th birthday. Shelby has served longer in the Senate than any other Alabamian, and also served eight years in the House of Representative before that. Elected as a conservative Democrat, he defeated incumbent Republican Jeremiah Denton in 1986. Eight years later, Shelby switched to the GOP on the heels of the party taking control of both the House and Senate in 1994.

Outgoing Alabama Republican Chairwoman Terry Lathan, who will not seek re-election to the party’s top position when her term expires later this month, remembered Shelby’s legacy in a prepared statement Monday.

“Alabama has truly been blessed to have U.S. Senator Richard Shelby representing our state in Congress for the last 42 years. He has always fought for what is best for his constituents — from expanding economic opportunities to advancing education and research,” she said. “Richard Shelby’s name will be repeated for generations to come when speaking of his deep devotion to Alabama and the massive work he accomplished for our state.”

Glenn Stephens

More Best of BirminghamWatch 2021: Politics

Woodfin Reelected Birmingham Mayor in Landslide

Birmingham Randall Woodfin at his reelection party. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

As the newly reelected mayor of Birmingham stepped to the stage upstairs at The Fennec in the Parkside District, a few hundred people chanted, “We’re With Woodfin,” and “Four More Years.”
Indeed, they were with Randall Woodfin at the ballot box on Tuesday. As a result, the incumbent pushed aside seven challengers and earned another four-year term in office.
“The energy in this room tonight doesn’t reflect me,” he said. “It reflects us. The energy in this room is the definition of Team Birmingham.” Read more.


Mt Brook Donations to Britt for Senate Signal Views from the GOP’s Business Wing

Residents of Mountain Brook may be relatively few in number, but they sent a message about their views on the Republican Party in campaign finance reports filed last week by candidates running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.
Although Mountain Brook’s population is just more than 20,000, people who live in the affluent Birmingham suburb contributed far more than any other municipality in the state to Katie Boyd Britt.
Donations from residents of Mountain Brook signal support for Britt from the traditional, business-oriented wing of the Republican Party. Read more.

Sewell, Alabama’s Lone Congressional Democrat, Seeks to Strengthen Voting Rights, Defeat Party Infighting

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, speaks at a press conference on Aug. 24 following House passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Source: Office of Rep. Terri Sewell

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, the lone Democrat in Alabama’s seven-member congressional delegation, is seeking to grow the party with a two-pronged approach — countering Republican-backed voting restrictions while raising money to protect Democratic incumbents against challenges from the left. Read more.