By Steve Flowers
A few months back the Jefferson County Republican Party honored our Senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby. It was held at The Club in Birmingham. The view from atop Red Mountain from this elegant club is spectacular, especially at night from the ballroom. The glass enclosure allows you to see the grandeur of the Birmingham skyline. As you glimpse at the scene you can see many of the buildings that are the heart of the University of Alabama / Birmingham.
As the tribute to Shelby began, I looked out over the night sky and caught a glimpse of the $70 million Shelby Biomedical Research building. I thought how appropriate that they were honoring a living legend in Alabama political history. Senator Shelby has been an integral part of the growth and expansion of UAB. The UAB Medical Complex and Research Center is now Jefferson County’s premier economic engine and employer.
In fact, UAB and the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville are Alabama’s crown jewels now and for the future. It could be said that UAB and the Redstone Arsenal have flourished because of Richard Shelby and his prowess at bringing home the bacon to Alabama over the past 30 years.
In my book, Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories, which was published several years ago, I have a chapter devoted to and entitled “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.” Two of those Senators served as a tandem in Washington during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Lister Hill and John Sparkman were powerful and revered statesmen.
Hill, a Montgomerian, served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years from 1938 to 1968. He was a congressman from the second district for 12 years prior to going to the U.S. Senate during the FDR New Deal.
Prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, John Sparkman was a congressman for eight years from his native Tennessee Valley. When he retired in 1970, he had been in the Senate for 32 years – the record for an Alabama U.S. Senator.
Sparkman is the father of the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. In fact they ought to name Huntsville Sparkmanville. Lister Hill whose legacy was in health care was the Father of UAB.
Senator Shelby has sustained these two giant legacies. He has used his power and influence to fuel the continued growth of these two pivotal cogs in Alabama’s economic engine. They are both reliant on Federal dollars which Shelby has supplied.
Hill and Sparkman were both University of Alabama graduates. Law school and undergraduate. They both were Student Government Presidents. Shelby was also a product of the University of Alabama. He was a Tuscaloosa lawyer prior to going to Congress in 1978. He had served eight years in the State Senate prior to his departure for Washington. He served eight years in Congress prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986.
He was reelected to his sixth six-year term last year. This time next year, he will surpass John Sparkman’s 32 years in the Senate and will have the record for longevity in the U.S. Senate from Alabama. I would contend that Richard Shelby has eclipsed Hill and Sparkman in Alabama political history when it comes to power and influence in Washington.
Many times it is difficult to ascertain or recognize greatness when it is current. However, history will record that Richard Shelby would arguably be considered Alabama’s greatest U. S. Senator.
John Sparkman chaired banking and had a legacy with housing Americans. Lister Hill authored the Hill-Burton Act which built hospitals all over America.
Richard Shelby has been Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. He has been Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.
Folks, what that means is that nothing becomes law in the United States or no budget or U.S. appropriation is approved without the consent of our Senior U.S. Senator.
Richard Shelby has reached a pinnacle of power never before seen in Alabama political history.
It really does not matter who is our Junior Senator. As long as we have Richard Shelby we do not need a second U.S. Senator.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.