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Shelby not out of the loop, picture

By By Steve Flowers
Last week's column, which chronicled the prowess of our Senior Senator Richard Shelby and his success at garnering extra federal funds for his pet Alabama projects, evoked numerous comments and inquiries from many of you. Some of you were curious whether Shelby would choose to retire when his term ends in 2010 because he is no longer Chairman of Senate Appropriations and his power has been greatly diminished since the Democrats became the majority party in the Senate as well as the House last year. My belief is that indeed Shelby's power has been deterred but hope springs eternal in politicians. They usually see the glass half full rather than half empty.
With the Democratic majority being razor thin, Shelby probably believes that once the Iraq occupation is over and Bush is out of the picture the Republicans will make some incremental gains and will be back in the majority and he will again be Chairman. In the meantime Shelby is still the ranking minority Senator on Appropriations and he will not be completely shut out of the pork barrel process. Therefore, as to Shelby's possible retirement my belief is don't count on it.
I fully expect and would bet that Shelby runs for reelection to a fifth six-year term in 2010. He will be 75 that year, which is young by U.S. Senate standards. He is healthy, having survived prostate cancer 10 years ago. The proof in the pudding is that Shelby would not be making a back breaking schedule of visiting every county in Alabama each year if he were not running.
Shelby's reputation as the King of Pork in Washington highlights the difference in our two U.S. Senators. Shelby is the ultimate pragmatist and compromiser and believes in bringing home the bacon while our junior Senator, Jeff Sessions, is the ultimate straight and narrow, indelible, social, and fiscal conservative ideologue.
Sessions is more interested in who sits on the Supreme Court and that they are purist on abortion or other social issues. He is at the center of a core of rightwing Republican Senators who are referred to as gadflies. They are considered lightweights and not especially effective at fixing potholes or building bridges, nor do they espouse that philosophy.
The contrast in philosophy between Shelby and Sessions was illuminated late last year when the decision was being made by the outgoing Republican majority as to whether they would pass the current spending bills they had worked on and created or pass the buck to address the budgets on to the incoming Democratic majority. The GOP Senators voted to pas them on and Sessions voted with them. However, Shelby voted to keep the budget he had crafted.
Sessions essentially voted against a budget that contained Shelby's pork projects for Alabama which included $30 million for the next phase of the Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research complex at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, $10 million for a 70,000 square foot health services facility at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, $3.5 million for a runway extension at the Birmingham airport, $6 million for a new federal building in Tuscaloosa, $400,000 for the Greene County Courthouse Square Preservation, $200,000 for Tannehill Ironworks, $5 million for an Alabama State University science facility, and $14 million for a textile center at Auburn University. These were all showing prior to a conference committee report. Shelby, the ultimate aggressive appropriator, would have tucked several more projects away in the budget in the late night hours prior to final passage.
The difference between Shelby and Sessions may stem from the fact that Sessions has an undaunted Republican pedigree that demands strict adherence to the social and fiscal right. He is a lifelong Republican, whereas Shelby cut his teeth as a Democrat. The interesting twist is that there is more speculation about Shelby's seat in 2010 than Sessions' seat which comes up next year in 2008.
Sessions does not appear to be attracting strong opposition for his reelection contest next year. It would be tough for a Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. We are one of the most ardent Republican states in America when it comes to federal elections. In addition, next year is a Presidential year and Alabamians are much more likely to vote overwhelmingly for a GOP candidate like John McCain rather than a Democrat named Hillary Clinton, which gives Sessions an additional coattail advantage
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 <http://www.steveflowers.us/>.