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Doug Jones honors Howell Heflin

Monday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, spoke in the U.S. Senate chamber honoring the late U.S. Senator and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Howell Heflin.

Senator Jones began his career in 1979 as Staff Counsel to Senator Heflin on the Senate Judiciary Committee. That was Jones’ first job following finishing law school.

“It is my privilege to now hold Judge Heflin’s seat here in the Senate,” Sen. Jones said. “It is my honor. The fact that I walked off this floor with him as a staffer in 1980 and walked back on in 2018 in his seat has been one of the great honors of my life,” Senator Jones said. “He was certainly my mentor and my role model in many ways, and each day that I am here in the Senate, I strive to continue his legacy.”

Sen. Jones quoted Senator Heflin’s retirement speech: “I have endeavored to represent Alabama in a studied, impartial and fair-minded manner. My record certainly merits at least an independent streak. I hope Alabamians know that my decisions were based on what I thought was in the best interest of my state and nation.”

Heflin, who retired in 1996 was the last Democratic Senator to hold a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

“I miss him, Alabama misses him, and I can assure my colleagues who didn’t know him that the United States Senate misses him as well,” Senator Jones said.

Howell Thomas Heflin was born in Poulan Georgia in 1921. His father was a Methodist Minister.

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Heflin came from a very prominent Alabama political family. His uncle, James Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin represented Alabama in: the U.S. Senate for ten years from 1920 to 1931, the U.S. House of Representatives from 1904-1920, as Alabama Secretary of State, as a delegate to the 1901 Constitutional Convention, the Alabama House of Representatives, and Mayor of LaFayette. His grand uncle, Robert Stell Heflin served in the Georgia State Senate, the Alabama House of Representatives, the Alabama Senate, as probate judge in Randolph County, the U.S. House of Representatives, and Chair of the 1876 Alabama Republican Partystate convention. His cousin, Julia Tutwiler was a prominent education advocate and reformer.

Heflin grew up in Colbert County, graduated from Colbert County High School and Birmingham Southern College in 1942. Heflin served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. A a Marine, Heflin participated in both the invasions of Bougainville and Guam, and earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

After the war, Heflin taught political science at the University of Alabama while earning his law degree. Heflin married Elizabeth Ann Carmichael in 1952. He practiced law in Tuscumbia, was Alabama State Bar President in 1965-1966 and was appointed to the Alabama Ethics Commission by Gov. Albert Brewer (D) in 1969 Heflin was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 1970, defeating former Governor John Patterson (D) in the Democratic Primary. He served for six years as Chief Justice.

Heflin was elected to the United States Senate in 1978 when Sen. John Sparkman (D) retired. Sparkman served in the Senate for 32 years following ten years in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Heflin represented the state of Alabama in Washington for 18 years. Senator Heflin was a moderate Democrat who tended to be conservative on national defense and social issues; but notably voted against the confirmation of judicial appointees: Jeff Sessions, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas. Heflin chaired the Senate Ethics Committee for 12 years. He was the last Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate until Jones upset victory in 2017.

When Heflin retired, Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) defeated State Senator Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) in the 1996 election to replace Heflin in the Senate. Sessions became only the second U.S. Senator from Alabama to win election as a Republican since Reconstruction.

Heflin died from a heart attack in 2005. He was 83.

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Senator Jones used the speech to formally dedicate the conference rooms in his Washington, D.C. Senate office to Senator Heflin and to Giles Perkins, Senator Jones’ friend and former campaign chairman who passed away after a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer last December.

When Sessions was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General by the Senate, then Governor Robert Bentley (R) appointed then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to the seat. Strange was defeated in the Republican runoff by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R). Jones, a former U.S. Attorney and former Heflin aide, then defeated Moore in the special general election.

Jones is the only Democrat to win a statewide race in Alabama since 2008.
Jones called Heflin a “lion of the Senate.”

Jones was joined by Heflin’s son Tom and his wife as well as several former Heflin staffers and members of the Perkins family at the ceremony renaming his conference room in their honor.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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