The 111th Congress begins, demands high
Published 10:51 am Monday, January 12, 2009
By By Jo Bonner
Last week, the 111th Congress began with the swearing-in of Senators and Representatives and the start of legislative activity for what is sure to be a very busy year. With all the many challenges facing our country, members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle will have no shortage of demands on their time and energy.
With many pieces of pressing legislative business on our plate, the ceremonies marking the commencement of the new Congress serve to remind us of those who came before us and to renew our commitment to the underlying principles that guided their actions and inspire us today.
The 111th Congress convened in much the same way every Congress has since the founding of our Republic and the first Congress in 1789. Gathering in the House Chamber, new and returning members were sworn in by the Speaker of the House and proceeded to vote on the rules which will govern procedure and debate throughout this Congress. In the Senate - which, unlike the House, is a continuing body - freshmen and newly reelected Senators were sworn in by the Vice President, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate.
Because 2008 was a presidential election year, the House of Representatives also acted last week, in accordance with the Constitution, to certify the results of the Electoral College. The electoral votes from each state were counted in a joint session of Congress and approved by the President of the Senate. Though the general election for president took place in November, the certification by the House of the Electoral College vote is the final constitutional step on the road to the presidency.
Two New Alabama Members
As many of you know, the Alabama delegation welcomed two new members who were sworn in last week: Rep. Bobby Bright of Alabama’s Second District and Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama’s Fifth District, both Democrats. Rep. Bright comes to Congress from Montgomery, where he was mayor from 1999 until his election last fall. Rep. Griffith represented the Huntsville area in the Alabama State Senate and will now represent much of north Alabama in the U.S. Capitol.
The two retiring members whose seats these gentlemen take, Republican Rep. Terry Everett of the Second District and Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer of the Fifth District, will be greatly missed by all their former colleagues, but especially those of us in the state delegation who have worked with them so successfully over the past years. I know I speak for my fellow Alabamians when I say I look forward to working with the new members in the best interests of our state. Members of this delegation have always been proud of our ability to work together for Alabama, and I know my new colleagues will continue in that great tradition.
The 111th Congress also continues in the tradition of increasing diversity, with 78 women in the House and 75 minority members, including the first congressman of Vietnamese descent, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA). As we reflect on how many things have stayed the same since the first Congress, it is also good to note that some things have most definitely changed - and for the better.
The Peaceful Transfer of Power
What our founding fathers established 220 years ago has certainly proven to be a durable institution, but it did not always seem that way. Establishing in the Constitution a process for the orderly transfer of power from one administration to another was, and remains, a revolutionary act. The colonies had fought a war to establish a government of their own making, and success was not certain.
The ceremonies I had the honor of participating in last week, and the electoral process on which they rest, are a rare thing in the history of the world. In the past, and in other countries to this day, governments often have changed hands by violent revolution or secret conspiracy, but the peaceful transition of power by the consent of the people is by far the exception to the rule. Last week, President-elect Obama had lunch at the White House with President Bush and former Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Carter. Looking back on the many times governments around the world have been thrown out or overturned since President Carter was sworn in in 1976, it is truly remarkable to see these men standing in the Oval Office together, smiling.
Our right to govern ourselves in this way is enshrined in the brilliant Constitution devised by our founding fathers, supported by our willing participation in the democratic process, and defended by the brave men and women of our armed forces. I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve the people of Alabama’s First District for another term in Congress.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.