Over the years, I have discussed my observations and concepts of the two different roles or routes taken by a U.S. senator or congressman during their tenure in Washington. One clearly chooses one of two postures in their representation of you in Washington. Our delegates in D.C. are either benefactors or ideologues.
The role of benefactor is much better for any state, especially Alabama. This public figure is not only a benefactor but also a facilitator and a statesman. In other words, this person is interested and diligent in bringing home the bacon to the Heart of Dixie.
The perfect example of a benefactor, facilitator, and statesman senator is our current senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. No senator in Alabama history has brought home more bacon to our state than Sen. Shelby. He has helped Alabama more during his 34 years in the Senate than any other senator.
The second role is the ideologue. This politician sees his or her role as a zealot on issues. The ideologue is more interested in advocating for popular social and non-economic issues with no regard for the state’s financial interests.
Beginning in the 1930s and extending for 30 years through the 1960s, we had two of the greatest U.S. senators in history. Lister Hill and John Sparkman were giants in Washington and were erudite diplomats for our state. They can be aptly described as benefactors, facilitators, and statesmen for Alabama.
During the 1970s and 1980s, we had two well-respected and effective senators in “Judge” Howell Heflin and Richard Shelby.
Upon the arrival of Jeff Sessions in 1996 as the state’s first true blue Republican, we witnessed the portrayal of our first true ideologue. Sessions was the most right-wing, reactionary Republican in the U.S. Senate. However, he was not a demagogue; he was a true believer and one of the most honest and gentlemanly men I have ever observed in the public arena. He was also well-qualified and prepared to be U.S. senator having been a U.S. attorney and attorney general of Alabama.
Nevertheless, during the 20 years that Sessions and Shelby served together, we had two distinctly different prototypes. Shelby was the benefactor, facilitator, and breadwinner, while Sessions was the ultimate ideologue, conservative, Fox News darling.
Currently, we have one benefactor, Shelby, and one ideologue, Tommy Tuberville. Sen. Shelby recently announced that he will retire after his sixth six-year term at the end of 2022. Alabama is going to be in the proverbial boat without a paddle at that time. We will have negligible power in Washington and, for a state that depends on federal dollars, that is not going to be a good position to be in for Alabama.
A large portion of Alabama’s federal largesse dollars goes to the Huntsville area. It is truly ironic that Huntsville is represented by a Congressman named Mo Brooks, who epitomizes the term ideologue and demagogue. Brooks is an embarrassment to Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley. He truly has not accomplished anything of significance to help his district in the few years he has been in Congress. He prefers being a bomb thrower to being an effective representative. Yet, there is probably not a congressional district in the country that benefits more from federal defense spending than Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal.
The entire growth and prosperity of the Huntsville area can be attributed to Senator Richard Shelby, with local assistance from Mayor Tommy Battle. Shelby has carried all of the weight for Huntsville, despite Brooks and his laisse faire attitude. In fact, Brooks’ total disregard for helping his people or district arguably has been a deterrent and obstacle for Shelby and Battle.
While Brooks has had the luxury of being an irrelevant, right-wing, gadfly who people just laughed at like a crazy uncle they keep locked in the closet, his latest exploits in Washington have made him a national poster boy for right-wing crazy theatrics and reflects poorly on Huntsville and, indeed, Alabama. Brooks has become a pariah and now actually hurts the growth and expansion of Alabama. Brooks is now in negative territory when it comes to recruiting industry and federal facilities to Huntsville and North Alabama. When industry or national leaders learn that Mo Brooks represents this area, they will run for the hills. Huntsville and the 5th district would be better off without a congressman than with Mo Brooks.
The only savior that the region has is Richard Shelby and he will be gone as the guardian savior in 20 months. God forbid the ultimate demagogue, Mo Brooks, could run for and win Shelby’s senate seat. We would have a plague on our entire state.
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.