By Congressman Jo Bonner
This is the last column I will write as your congressman. As such, I hope you’ll permit a few reflections on the journey, as well as acknowledge some of the seeds that have been planted along the way.
As you may recall, my father died when I was 13, leaving my mother – and a few years later, a step-father – the responsibility to help keep me on the straight and narrow.
Like many young boys in a similar situation, I was blessed to be surrounded by a whole bunch of really good people who had a hand in influencing me to make more good decisions than bad.
Teachers, ministers, my wonderful sister, Judy, and brother Jim, and, of course, family and friends… they all played a major role in those early years. I’ve often said I might have been a 9th grade dropout, because I really didn’t understand the importance of conjugating a verb, had it not been for Mrs. Margaret Thornton, the school librarian, and Mrs. Barbara Kelley, my English teacher, who saw far more potential in me than I saw in myself.
Throughout the years, that circle of friends would thankfully grow.
During the summer of my junior year at The University of Alabama, I had a rare opportunity to intern for a man who would go on to influence me for the rest of my life; someone who, even then, I looked up to as a true statesman, Congressman Jack Edwards.
A day after graduation in May of ‘82, I set out to try to help a family friend, Lieutenant Governor George McMillan, be elected Governor of Alabama. Along the campaign trail that hot summer, I was introduced to another man who would also go on to have a profoundly positive impact on my life, then-State Senator Sonny Callahan, who was running for Lieutenant Governor.
Like George, Sonny’s race didn’t turn out so well. But two years later, when Sonny ran for Congress with Jack Edwards’ strong encouragement, I saddled my journalistic talents – that only a few years before I didn’t even know existed – to a real jewel of a man.
Sonny Callahan went on to be elected to Congress in November of ’84 and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history. First as his press secretary and later as his chief of staff, Congressman Callahan afforded me the opportunity to work side-by-side for one of the best. Not only was he a tremendous mentor, he soon became like a second father.
Eighteen years later, both Sonny and Jack played an integral role in helping me become only the third person to represent South Alabama in Congress since 1964. I know in my heart if Daddy were alive today, he would be so incredibly proud that his son would be inspired to do good for so many others because of the outstanding examples set by Jack Edwards and Sonny Callahan.
Since this is a column, not a book, there obviously isn’t enough space to thank all the many other people by name – mayors, probate judges, state legislators, editors and reporters, chamber officials, and countless civic leaders. There were a lot of “just friends” as well.
Without question, one and all helped make these years in elected office unforgettable to say the least.
Along the way, the people of Alabama’s First Congressional District have afforded my staff and me an opportunity to come into your homes – and into a lot of your hearts – and be a part of your families. Somehow we have managed to survive two monster hurricanes, Ivan in 2004 and Katrina a year later, the most awful recession since the Great Depression, a war in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, not to mention the worst oil spill in U.S. history. And that’s just been during my 10 ½ years as your congressman.
During this time, we’ve also worked together, as I said at the top of this column, to plant a few seeds that will hopefully bear fruit for a long, long time. Make no mistake, landing Airbus last year, getting ThyssenKrupp in 2007 and obtaining the contracts for new Navy ships at Austal in 2010 were all transformational moments that have – and will continue to – change South Alabama for the better.
Throw in passage of the RESTORE Act in 2012, as well as funding for Highways 83 and 84, a new Federal Courthouse for Mobile that, I predict, will soon be under construction, as well as some solid investments at the Mitchell Cancer Center at The University of South Alabama, to name just a few legislative highlights, and we’ve tried with all our might to make good use of the time we’ve had.
As everyone knows, a good coach doesn’t win a championship unless he or she is surrounded by great people. And as I close this column for the last time, I would be extremely remiss in not mentioning, by name, the men and women with whom I have had the pleasure of working on your behalf for all these years.
While the names Al Spencer, Eliska Morgan, Landra Day, Frazier Payne, Jon Hand, Bryan Parker, Allison Clark, Rachel Kaiser, Marcy Pack, Suzannah Weeks, Errical Bryant, Nancy Tippins, Kelle Strickland, Mike Sharp, Michael Galloway, Brad Hicks, Watson Donald, Luke Strange, Matt Weinstein, Kristen Morris, Matt Rhodes, Nancy Wall, Mike Lewis, Elizabeth Roney, Jill Chenoweth, Jeanne Cabe, Kay Williams, Brooks Chew, Brandy Jackson, Courtney Soward, Dixie Patrick, Jessica Sheppard, Ashley Nichols and Kristi Broadfoot might not be household names to you, these extremely talented, dedicated public servants have, over varying amounts of time during the past decade, worked their hearts out for the people of South Alabama.
Oftentimes standing in the shadows of a spotlight cast on someone else, their unselfish service and unquestionable loyalty to South Alabama made anything I was able to accomplish possible. I owe each one of them more than mere words can convey.
Finally, I must thank my beautiful wife, Janée, and our two wonderful children, Lee, almost 18 and Robins, 15, for their love, support and encouragement.
It’s not always easy being the spouse or child of someone in public life. Sometimes my vote on a controversial piece of legislation, or an answer to a question at a town meeting that ends up making the local news, can cause a case of severe heartburn around the family dinner table.
Lee was seven and Robins was four when Speaker Hastert administered the Oath of Office to me in January of 2003. But like it should be for all parents, our daughter and son are God’s greatest blessing to Janée and me.
Lastly, I must thank you, my bosses.
It never mattered to me whether you were a Democrat or Republican, black or white, liberal or conservative, for I have always looked upon the 670,000 people who lived in Alabama’s First Congressional District as the people who employed me.
Even when we disagreed, and there were those times, I hope I never embarrassed you – I certainly tried my best not to – and I trust you will always know that being only the fifth person, during the past 95 years, to wear the title of “Representative” in the U.S. House from Southwest Alabama will always, and forever, be one of life’s greatest honors.
Janée joins me in saying thank you. May God bless you and your family. And may God always bless the greatest nation on the face of the earth, The United States of America.