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Joint town meetings with a colleague

By By Jo Bonner
Congressman
With Congress currently in the midst of its district work period, I took the opportunity to come back home to south Alabama this week and get out to meet with constituents in Clarke County.
I was especially pleased that these two meetings in Thomasville and Grove Hill were held with my friend and fellow freshman, Artur Davis. These meetings gave us an outstanding opportunity to meet with constituents in both towns who may not have been aware of the recent changes in the district lines and to allow them to share their concerns with two congressmen who have a mutual interest in the well being of that area.
Both meetings were extremely well attended, and the audiences at both Pineview Baptist Church in Thomasville and the county courthouse in Grove Hill were anxious to discuss many of the issues in the news today.
Prior to meeting with constituents in Clarke County, I had been asked by several people whether I thought that Congressman Davis (a Democrat) and I (a Republican) would be able to share the stage and talk about important issues without our partisan beliefs becoming an issue.
As I said at that time and still continue to believe, this could best be explained by using an analogy of a person who is suffering with a stomach ache and who goes to two different doctors for help. To cure this problem, the first doctor may prescribe a change in diet while the second might say the only thing needed is two aspirin.
Although the two physicians approached a solution to the problem differently, both wanted to achieve the same outcome: a patient who feels better.
The same is true for Artur and me: we may not always necessarily agree on the best way to reach solutions that benefit our districts, but the end result n a better served population and more successful state n is one on which we both agree.
Rural areas need a boost
One thing you'll find that we certainly agree on is the fact that many counties in the northern part of my district and much of the 7th District are in need of help.
As many of you are aware, the residents of many counties in Alabama have struggled for decades with high unemployment rates and low income levels. Four of these counties n Washington, Monroe, Escambia and parts of Clarke n are currently within the lines of the First Congressional District.
Together with an additional 238 counties across eleven southern states, this region is home to 30 percent of the total American population.
Unfortunately, it is also home to 34 percent of the nation's poorest.
As the representative for south Alabama, my first priority is for the welfare of the constituents within my district. However, I am also an Alabamian, and with that designation comes a desire to work for the betterment of the entire state.
It is extremely encouraging to see that Congressman Davis and I are not alone in that regard. In the past few weeks alone, in fact, there has been a tremendous amount of activity on the local and state level in an effort to combat these ongoing concerns.
Just one month into his term as governor, Bob Riley announced the creation of a commission to study the economic and financial problems that have plagued this region of Alabama. To chair this commission, the governor selected State Senator Hank Sanders, a resident of Dallas County and the representative of a legislative district in an enormously depressed area.
This decision drew immediate praise from members of both parties and was a clear indication that our state leadership is taking this problem seriously. As Governor Riley stated at the time of his announcement, "We are going to look at that area in a way we've never looked at it before. We cannot create two cultures in one state."
There have also been several regional and statewide conferences held to discuss rural and economic development for this area of the state. One was a roundtable forum I attended in Thomasville with Congressman Davis and dozens of mayors, state legislators and community and business leaders representing fourteen Alabama counties.
Additionally, there have been conferences held throughout the southeastern United States that have included representatives from groups ranging from churches and local advocacy organizations to the United States Department of Agriculture and several governors' offices.
Hope for a brighter future
The events of recent weeks and months have shown that numerous groups and elected officials are beginning to realize the importance of bettering the rural areas of Alabama. The need for this is so great that, for one of those rare times in our state's history, political ideology is being cast aside for the greater good.
I will certainly do all I can to assist with the improvement of the areas within my district that will be affected.
At the same time, however, I will also need to be shown exactly how this initiative will impact the taxpayers in south Alabama and exactly how it will be funded. I just want to ensure that the long-term benefits far exceed the short term cost.
With the amount of concern and the desire to help we are witnessing, the residents of rural Alabama are for the first time seeing signs of a better future on the horizon.
Until next week, may God continue to bless all of us and this great nation.