When asked about the decision-making process behind his choice to run for the Alabama House of Representatives, newly elected state Rep. Bill Lamb of Tuscaloosa preferred to list the reasons why he didn’t want to run.
“I didn’t need a job because I had a really good job; I didn’t need another career because I had a great career; but what I really wanted to do was to find a place to serve,” Lamb said in an interview with APR earlier this December. “I thought I could make a difference.”
Lamb, who retired in 2021 as the chief financial officer for Tuscaloosa County, spent 39 years as the county’s head accountant and served 37 of those years as the only accountant for the commission. A career public servant, Lamb retired from his position in 2021, leaving behind financial conditions that were absent upon his arrival in 1982 when Tuscaloosa County was $1.5 million in debt and major factories and businesses were closing.
The primary industries in the county, with the exception of the B.F Goodrich Tire plant, all shut down operations in the early 1980s, causing the existing tax base to shrink and forcing the county to “tighten their belts,” according to Lamb.
The arrival of JVC America in the late 1980s, and the beginning of coal bed methane extraction in the county beginning in the early 1990s, combined with the opening of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in 1994, brought previously unseen economic fortune to the area.
“Over good financial management with the county commission through the years, they turned all that around,” Lamb said. “At the end, we had an over $40 million budget surplus and no long-term debt.”
Lamb said he is most proud of the retirement of long-term debts present at his arrival.
“I feel like we actually met the needs of the county without hoarding money,” Lamb said. “We were just doing good financial management.”
At the same time that he was working with the county, Lamb and his family founded and operated a traveling family ministry that performed concerts at churches and other venues across the state, including the inaugurations of both Bob Riley and Robert Bentley.
“We did that for about 15 years, and so that took up a lot of my time,” Lamb said.
District 62 has been the seat of a few noteworthy individuals over the past few decades, including outgoing State Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, who played linebacker under Bear Bryant during the Tide’s 1979 Sugar Bowl victory against Penn State, and incumbent Secretary of State John Merrill, who preceded Wingo in the district.
Now Lamb adds his name to the district’s legacy, winning his election against presumptive Democratic nominee Brenda Cephus, a retired Tuscaloosa County school teacher, during the November U.S. Midterms. No other Republican qualified to run in the district during the primary season. When asked about his legislative priorities for the upcoming regular legislative session, expected this upcoming March, Lamb said his focus would be on workforce development to train individuals for the heavily industrial district.
“I think we need to emphasize workforce development because we have two jobs for everyone employed person,” Lamb said. “We gotta develop our young people with the skills necessary to compete in today’s economy.”
Education is another area that Lamb wants to focus on as he enters state-level policymaking for the first time.
“We need to get back to some basics in education, like emphasizing science, math, history, English, those kinds of things, to help the young people to be able to participate effectively in the workforce,” Lamb said. “What’s unique about the times we’re living in, particularly in Tuscaloosa, is that we have the jobs. In the past, we were always concerned that we don’t have enough jobs. We have enough jobs now, we just need the skills to do them.”
In preparation for his time in the state house this upcoming year, Lamb said he is meeting with “various groups, different entities” and learning about the preexisting needs and policy goals for the session.
“I just want to be accessible, available, and accountable to people in my district,” Lamb said.