Shelby visits Escambia County at JDCC on Monday
Published 6:57 am Wednesday, January 23, 2002
By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Senator Richard Shelby addressed a variety of issues from flood mitigation to terrorism during a county meeting held on Monday on the campus of Jefferson Davis Community College.
Shelby, who visits all 67 Alabama counties every year, spoke to a crowd of about 20 people at the Alabama Technology Network Center for Telecommunications building.
The Senator who serves on a number of committees including the Appropriations and the Intelligence committees, said this area is fortunate to be in the unique position of having himself and Representative Sonny Callahan on the Appropriations Committee. The committee is considered one of the most powerful committees because it is in charge of trillions of dollars.
Shelby said one of the areas where Alabama has seen the most dramatic increase in federal funding is in roads. He said funding from the federal government has doubled since 1996 to $700 million.
"The state's highway department has more money than ever before," he said. "There are a number of projects going on in the state including one here in this area (referring to the Hwy. 31 three-laning project)."
Shelby said he tried to allocate the funds for the highway department and then allow the state to do as it sees fit.
"We (Sessions and Callahan) do not micromanage. We have some input, but generally we send the money and let them spend it and they are doing a good job," he said.
Shelby also addressed the current war on terrorism and said he felt the nation must continue fighting terrorism to assure the American way of life.
"September 11 was a wake-up call for our nation," he said. "We will be attacked again if we do don't seek out these terrorists. We cannot let people fighting an unconventional war to destroy our way of life."
As chairman on the Intelligence Committee, Shelby was asked to expand on terrorism and September 11 by Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings. He said citizens of this country can expect more casualties before the war is won.
"This state lost a man from Winfield. Here is a young man who left a six-month old son. Then we have another American who fought with the Taliban. These are two different views of America and I believe we will see more of that.
"There are going to be casualties. We know now that these people are not playing games … we won't play games either."
Following the attacks on Sept. 11, there was also a series of anthrax exposures across the country. Shelby said anthrax was found in his office and that he hoped to move back in soon. The senator was tested for exposure twice and said both came out negative.
Addressing the economy, Shelby said he realized this county has lost jobs in the textile sector. He said losing those jobs was a result of NAFTA, legislation he voted against.
He said he believed the economy was in a recession as was some of the world's other economies.
"The economy is fundamentally sound," Shelby said. "But, we are in a recession.
"The world's second largest economy, Japan, is having problems and are in need of restructuring their banking system. The third largest economy and Europe's largest economy by far, Germany, is also in recession. We need these economies to improve because we need them to buy from us and we need to buy from them."
At the end of his address to the audience, Shelby opened the floor to questions and comments.
Mayor Jennings initialized this segment by expressing his gratitude for Shelby's work in recent flood mitigation program and in supporting the expansion of a runway at Brewton Airport.
Shelby said solving flood problems in Brewton and East Brewton could be a reality.
"I think we are making progress," he said. "I've been hearing about (flooding mitigation) for many years and I think it can be a reality.
"I believe Sonny Callahan and I, working together in the Appropriations Committee, can get it done. But, we have to be on the same song book."
Karen Steamway, of Brewton's Family Resource Center, said she was concerned for the young families of Alabama and that she felt there needed to be a different attitude in helping those people.
"I sincerely believe that the number one thing we can do to help young people in this state lies in education," Shelby said. "We have to put an investment into our young people. The future of our country and this community depend on educating our young people.
Education continuedd to be the topic as Susan McBride, president of JDCC, told the Senator she appreciated his support of the Student Support Services Grant that has allowed several first generation college students to succeed.
Shelby said a small part of the total education funding comes from the federal government. He said it was unfortuante that Alabama state officials cut back education funding a year ago.
"It was the wrong message at the wrong time," he said. "We are cheating our future. Money is not the only answer, but it is a big part of the answer."
Shelby also spoke on the Enron Corporation which announced bankruptcy two weeks ago despite showing no signs of economic troubles.
"I think there should be an investigation, both criminal and civil. We need to know want went wrong and who are the culprits," he said. "If this is not fraud, I don't know what is."
Knowing the importance of the timber industry in Escambia County, Shelby said the U.S. is looking at a lumber agreement with Canada.
"We want to make sure it is a level playing field," he said. "Most of the timber land in southeast Alabama is privately owned. But the land in Canada is owned by the government which gives them an advantage."
Following the meeting, those in attendance gathered in the lobby where Shelby stayed and spoke with people individually.