Things have changed a lot in the last 50 years

Published 8:47am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Exactly 50 years ago in 1961 Alabama had nine congressmen and two U.S. senators. All eleven members of our congressional delegation were Democrats. They were also all white and all male. Incidentally, they were all old white men. However, in Washington, old is good. It generally translates into seniority, which translates into power.

Southerners have always tended to reelect their incumbent powerful congressmen. Therefore, seven of our nine congressmen had over 20 years of service. Several of these elderly gentlemen chaired powerful and prestigious committees. Most of these good old boys had come to Washington during the New Deal and were loyal FDR Democrats. It may surprise you to know that they were very progressive and liberal even by national standards. FDR and the New Deal had been good for these men and to Alabama. They were progressives who believed that a big federal government was not bad.

If you think our nine congressmen were powerful you have not seen anything until you look at our two U.S. senators. Lister Hill and John Sparkman were two of the most powerful and respected men in the U.S. Senate and the most powerful senatorial duo in the nation. Therefore, in 1961, we had one of the oldest and most powerful delegations in the nation’s capitol and they were all Democrats.

Fast forward 60 years and there is a completely different picture. Six of our seven congress people are Republicans and both of our U.S. senators are members of the GOP. That makes our delegation eight Republicans and one Democrat. They are also very young by Potomac standards. Therefore, we have very little seniority or power in our delegation. Besides being young, they are extremely conservative. We also have two females in our seven member delegation. What a difference 50 years make.

Our two U.S. senators are in a more powerful position than our congressional delegates, especially Senator Shelby. Richard Shelby is in his fifth six-year term. He has been in Washington 33 years, 25 of which have been in the U.S. Senate. He has become one of the ten most powerful people in the U.S. Senate. He has brought home the bacon to Alabama by the barrel load.

Our junior senator, Jeff Sessions, is 64 and is considered youthful. He ranks as one of the five most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. He should be in the Senate for many years to come. However, it may be a decade before he can be called our senior senator because Shelby is quick to tell you that he plans to run for a sixth term in 2016.

Birmingham Congressman Spencer Bachus at 63 is now the senior member of our congressional delegation. Bachus is Chairman of the old Banking Committee, now known as Financial Services. His 6th District, which is made up of the suburban counties of Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Chilton, is one of the most Republican districts in the country.

Robert Aderholt from Northwest Alabama arrived in Congress at a young age. Therefore, he is on a fast track. He has a decade of seniority under his belt and is only 45 years old. If he stays the course he will be a power in Congress in future years. He also has excellent committee assignments.

Congressmen Jo Bonner of Mobile and Mike Rogers of Anniston are both 51 and have a couple of terms under their belts. Bonner seems to be very well connected and respected within the GOP caucus.

Republicans Mo Brooks of Huntsville and Martha Roby of Montgomery are in their first terms having been elected in the 2010 Republican tidal wave. Martha Roby is an amazingly young 31 years old. If she stays in Congress until she is old enough to draw social security she will break some records in regards to longevity, seniority and power.

Terri Sewell, who is also in her first term, is our only Democrat and only African American congresswoman. She is the first female African American elected to Congress from Alabama. Sewell is a bright star in Washington. She is an Ivy League educated lawyer who lives in Birmingham and was born and raised in Selma. At 45 she should be in Congress a long time and will make her mark.

Our congressional delegation’s average age is 48. This is strikingly young by comparison to other state delegations. Redistricting should be kind to all seven incumbents. My guess is that when the lines are drawn by the Republican legislature all six Republicans will be happy and so will Ms. Sewell. All seven should be set for clear sailing in 2012.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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