INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers
Most times political columns are critical or derogatory of politicians. However, today I would like to share some positive observations from the first few months of this year.
Sometimes I enjoy striding down the halls of our old capitol reminiscing about my younger days when I would walk those halls as a page boy and then during my 30’s and 40’s as a member of the legislature. In bygone days you would never see a constitutional officer in their offices working on Fridays, not even the governor. A few months ago I walked down the halls at about 3:30 on a Friday afternoon and popped into Secretary of State John Merrill’s office and to my amazement Secretary Merrill was in his office working.
After visiting with him a while, I walked across the hall to the State Treasurer’s office and lo and behold there was Young Boozer working away. We chatted a while, Young’s daddy was a good friend of mine. His name was also Young Boozer. He was a very successful businessman. He had been a star football player at Alabama during the 1920’s with Bear Bryant. He intercepted a pass that won the Rose Bowl against Stanford, which by the way is this Young’s alma mater.
Well about three weeks later I was attending a ceremony in the old historic House chamber, which was also on a Friday afternoon. I repeated my steps from the previous Friday and again Merrill and Boozer were in their offices working. In essence not only are John Merrill and Young Boozer uniquely qualified for their jobs, these two gentlemen have an honest to goodness work ethic for the people of Alabama.
Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby has been our U.S. Senator since 1986. During those 30 years he has kept a campaign promise made during that 1986 campaign. He has come home and visited all 67 counties each and every year.
As he begins his sixth- six-year term he finds himself in a pinnacle of power never before matched in Alabama political history. He is without question one of the five most powerful men in the United States Senate, which makes him one of the nation’s most important leaders. Senator Shelby chairs the omnipotent Senate Rules Committee. Within the next two years he will set the record for Senate longevity by any Alabama Senator in history. He will exceed John Sparkman’s record of over 32 years in the Senate and he will also become Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Most U.S. Senators in his position would enjoy the trappings of power and adulation in Washington. Not Shelby. At 81 years old he spent the months of February and March quietly traveling the state visiting with Alabama businesses discussing how he could use his seniority to enhance their opportunities and growth.
One Wednesday night in late February I joined my old friend Shelby for dinner in downtown Enterprise. He had spent the past two days visiting with military related industries throughout the Wiregrass around Ft. Rucker. As we reminisced about past times in Alabama politics I marveled at how sharp Shelby is for 81. He looks and moves more like someone 61. We are fortunate to have Shelby.
State Senator Gerald Dial has been in the Alabama Senate for 30 years. He has adamantly said he is not running for reelection next year. He is using his last term in the Senate to be a leader and workhorse. He seems to be in charge of the Senate. He is involved with every major issue and is chairing the Reapportionment Committee, which has to have a resolution by the end of the Session. He seems more like the Governor than a powerful State Senator.
State Senator Cam Ward has taken the bull by the horns with the prison overcrowding bond issue. He has been the architect, developer, chief cook and bottle washer of this premier and critical issue. He has filled a void left by the governor’s office.
Representative Steve Clouse has become the budget guru and mainstay of the beleaguered General Fund. As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee he has worked adroitly and prudently to keep the ship of state afloat. If it were not for Clouse’s diligence and stewardship, the state would be floating aimlessly into the Gulf of Mexico.
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.