Unseating a congressman is a tough task

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, September 6, 2006

By By Steve Flowers
While the Governor's Race along with Legislative and local races are center stage in Alabama, this is also a national election year with all 435 members of Congress up for election and 33 Senate seats up for grabs. We do not have either of our two U.S. Senate seats up this year, which makes the Governor's race even more of a marquee show. However, all seven of our Congressmen run this year, as they do every two years, but they all will be reelected.
Almost all Congressmen nationwide win reelection. In fact 98 percent of all incumbent members of Congress are reelected. It is virtually impossible to unseat a sitting Congressman whether they do a good job or not. It would take a monumental scandal to put one in jeopardy. The power of incumbency, with the money raising advantage, makes the challenge insurmountable. Members of the Communist Party in their heyday were more likely to lose than a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Our delegation is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats. The five Republicans work hard at being among the most conservative in the country and they are proud of it. In data which analyzes conservative versus liberal voting by members of Congress they rank very high.
Interestingly 80 years ago, from 1926-1946, we had nine Congressmen, all nine of which were white male Democrats. The Americans for Democratic Action at that time ranked our delegation as one of the most liberal in the country. They were all supporters of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. They were pillars in Washington and Alabama reaped the benefits of their seniority.
Our Senate tandem of Lister Hill and John Sparkman will never be matched for power and prestige as a duo. Our Congressional delegation was made up of giants who all had over 20 years in Congress. They brought home the bacon, especially to the Tennessee Valley. Men like Bob Jones of Scottsboro, Albert Rains of Gadsden, Carl Elliot of Jasper, George Grant of Troy, and Frank Boykin of Mobile made a real impact.
Today's Congressmen do not have the power they had then because Congress was not as partisan. In today's partisan driven House you simply vote the party line and you are more of a member than an individual. The five Republicans have relinquished much of their power and influence by being party pawns.
Spencer Bachus has more seniority and is in position to move into a powerful banking post next term. Robert Aderholt who got to the House at an extremely young age has the potential to be a power. He is on the right committee and in time could wield the kind of influence that his predecessor Tom Bevill possessed. Mike Rogers, the newest Republican, is working very hard and is on a fast track. Terry Everett, a Wiregrass Republican, has been a predictable Republican Party vote. Jo Bonner, Mobile's new Congressman, has only been in office a few years but will be hard pressed to match the power of his predecessor and mentor, Sonny Callahan. Callahan, through 20 years of climbing the seniority ladder, had become a cardinal thus wielding inordinate power on his infrastructure committee perch.
Huntsville Democrat Bud Cramer is the most effective of the delegation. Having served for over a decade, he is the most independent and least predictable. Cramer is a founder and leader of a group of conservative Democrats called the Bluedogs, which is a dying breed in Washington. His independence from party dogma and taking positions based on each issue has made him invaluable to his north Alabama district and Redstone Arsenal. He has to be courted because his vote is not dictated and predetermined by a party leader.
The Congressman who attracts the most attention is second term Democrat Artur Davis. His is a rising star in Washington. His brilliance and articulation has caught the eye of his party's leadership and the national pundits. He also has made it clear that he is ambitious and would like to one day run for either Governor or the U.S. Senate.
Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby after 20 years in the Senate has become one of the most influential Senators in America. He wields more power and influence than all of our seven Congressmen and Junior Senator Jeff Sessions combined. He will go down in history with Hill and Sparkman as one of our most powerful Senators.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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