Sen. Shelby visits Andalusia

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2003

During a town hall meeting at Andalusia Elementary School Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, talked candidly with citizens about homeland security, economics and transportation; and shared a few jokes with those in attendance.

Long a supporter of a strong national defense and national security, Shelby talked at length with constituents about the events of September 11, 2001 and the changes made within the federal government since. One of the most vocal figures in the aftermath of 9/11, and what could have been to prevent it from occurring in the first place - and preventing it from happening again - Shelby had strong remarks, but remained positive about the changes that have occurred.

"The real failure was the failure to share information between agencies in a timely fashion," Shelby said. "We are slowly and diligently correcting and making improvements on security, intelligence and sharing information among agencies to make sure it never happens again. My goal (referring to previous comments in national media outlets) was to improve the FBI, CIA and other security and intelligence agencies - not bring them down.

"We (Congress) have called on the FBI to be similar to a domestic intelligence agency, similar to the British government's MI5, to prevent future terrorist attacks. Now, the CIA, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are all working better together."

As expected, the war in Iraq was discussed, and Shelby offered nothing but praise for the soldiers, President Bush and their families.

"I'm proud of the president, the troops - everyone - Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Gen. (Wesley) Myers, all of them," he said. "I believe the American people are proud of them and I believe they will always support the soldiers.

"Iraq is potentially a very rich country, and the Iraqis can use that wealth to help modernize and improve their country. This is the first time, probably in their history, that the Iraqi people have experienced true freedom."

Shifting from war and terrorism, Shelby moved on to the economy and the focus President Bush is going to take, along with members of Congress.

"Like President Bush, we're going to start focusing on the economy," he said. "The United States is the largest economy in the world, then Japan and Germany. Despite how bad things appear to be here, they're worse there. We have a lot of capacity in the United States, we just have to get the (demand) for it up. We have got to create demand for our economy. I want a healthy economy, and so does the president."

After talking about issues near to him, Shelby fielded questions from those in attendance, and even received a few t-shirts to thank him for efforts he's already worked on for Covington County.

City of Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams, presented Shelby with a t-shirt with the Drug Task Force's logo, and asked Shelby to remember that many counties and towns are fighting terrorism as well - terrorism of the drug war.

"Senator Shelby, I thank you for your efforts in helping us fight drugs, but I want you to remember that it is a form of terrorism, and send some of that money to law enforcement to fight drugs," Williams said.

Shelby agreed with Williams that drugs are a form of terrorism and pledged to help keep fighting them.

Rick Gush of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society also presented Shelby with a t-shirt and cap to thank him for his efforts to help establish a complete hiking trail through Alabama, connecting with the Pinhoti and Appalachian Trails.

Shelby said the trail was beneficial to the people of Alabama, and the country, and was glad he was able to help send funds to the state for such a worthy cause.

Like all things in Alabama lately, the topic of education came up and Shelby had some comments for Alabama's current situation.

"There is no better commitment on a state level that education," he said. "Gov. Riley wants to improve things and I support his efforts. I'm a United States Senator and can't do much about state matters, but I do support Gov. Riley - as an Alabama citizen.

"We, the citizens of Alabama, are going to have to make policy changes. We've got to fund education, and we have to seek out and retain the best and brightest from home and our neighbors to become teachers. It makes all the difference in the world. The people of Alabama are going to have to make a decision if they want a first-class education. To ignore the problem will mean we will have to pay for it in the future."

Questions were also raised about what can be done on the federal level to help Alabama's economy - specifically economically depressed areas such as Covington County - to improve. Shelby said that as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and chairman of the Transportation, Treasury and General Government subcommittee, he would do all he could to help areas like Covington County.

"I support sound economic change," he said. "I will continue to do everything I can to bring money to help improve the infrastructure and education systems to help improve the economic situation. Places have to have a fundamental approach and attitude that is conducive to growth, but it's the people who have taken risks and started businesses that built the country, and continue to provide most of the jobs."

Shelby also said he continues to support major highway improvements in the area, and that Alabama is receiving more money for those improvements from the federal government than it has ever received.

"I support the 'beach route' y'all are working on, and the four-laning of Highway 84," he said. "I want to see it done, because I love traveling it, and I am doing all I can to help get it done. You have a very powerful asset in the Speaker of the House in Montgomery. He can help you get things done, and steer the federal funds this way."