Congress has really changed

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In 1961, Alabama had nine congressmen and two U.S. senators. All 11 members of our congressional delegation were Democrats. They were also all white and all male. Incidentally, there were all old white men. However, in Washington, old is good. It generally translates into seniority, which translates into power.

Southerners have always tended to reelect their incumbent powerful congressmen. Therefore, seven of our nine congressmen had more than 20 years of service. Several of these elderly gentlemen chaired powerful and prestigious committees. Most of these good old boys had come to Washington during the New Deal and were loyal FDR Democrats. It may surprise you to know that they were very progressive and liberal even by national standards, and believed a big federal government was not bad. FDR and the New Deal had been good for these men and to Alabama.

If you think our nine congressmen were powerful you have not seen anything until you look at our two U.S. senators. Lister Hill and John Sparkman were two of the most powerful and respected men in the U.S. Senate and the most powerful senatorial duo in the nation. Therefore, in 1961, we had one of the oldest and most powerful delegations in the nation’s capitol and they were all Democrats.

Fast forward 60 years and there is a completely different picture. Six of our seven congress people are Republicans and both of our U.S. senators are members of the GOP. That makes our delegation eight Republicans and one Democrat. They are also very young by Potomac standards. Therefore, we have very little seniority or power in our delegation. Besides being young, they are extremely conservative. We also have two females in our seven-member delegation. What a difference 60 years make.

Our two U.S. senators are in a more powerful position than our congressional delegates, especially Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his fifth six-year term. He has been in Washington 33 years, 25 of which have been in the U.S. Senate. He has become one of the 10 most powerful people in the U.S. Senate. He has brought home the bacon to Alabama by the barrel load.

Our junior senator, Jeff Sessions, is 64 and considered youthful. He ranks as one of the five most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. He should be in the Senate for many years to come. However, it may be a decade before he can be called our senior senator because Shelby is quick to tell you that he plans to run for a sixth term in 2016.

Birmingham Congressman Spencer Bachus at 63 is now the senior member of our congressional delegation. Bachus is chairman of the old Banking Committee, now known as Financial Services. His 6th District, which is made up of the suburban counties of Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Chilton, is one of the most Republican districts in the country.

Robert Aderholt from Northwest Alabama arrived in Congress at a young age. Therefore, he is on a fast track. He has a decade of seniority under his belt and is only 45 years old. If he stays the course he will be a power in Congress in future years. He also has excellent committee assignments.

Congressmen Jo Bonner of Mobile and Mike Rogers of Anniston are both 51 and have a couple of terms under their belts. Bonner seems to be very well connected and respected within the GOP caucus.

Republicans Mo Brooks of Huntsville and Martha Roby of Montgomery are in their first terms, having been elected in the 2010 Republican tidal wave. Terri Sewell, who is also in her first term, is our only Democrat and only African American congresswoman. She is the first female African American elected to Congress from Alabama.

Our congressional delegation’s average age is 48. This is strikingly young by comparison to other state delegations. Redistricting should be kind to all seven incumbents. My guess is that when the lines are drawn by the Republican legislature, all six Republicans will be happy and so will Ms. Sewell. All seven should be set for clear sailing in 2012.