Map to Washington has changed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In 1961, all 11 of our senators and congressmen were white male Democrats. Today, eight out of nine of our members of Congress are Republican and two of our members are females. Let us compare their paths to power to the 1961 group.

Our senior senator, Richard Shelby, is identical to the group of yesteryear. His career perfectly replicates the earlier era.

Shelby was born in Jefferson County next door to Tuscaloosa. He went to college at the University of Alabama and was a member of a Machine fraternity. He went on to law school and began his practice in Tuscaloosa. Eight years later he was elected to the state senate from Tuscaloosa. In 1978 he was elected to Congress where he served eight years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. Shelby now parallels and joins our 1961 duo of Lister Hill and John Sparkman as three of Alabama’s greatest U.S. Senators.

Our junior senator, Jeff Sessions, went to Huntingdon, a small private Methodist college in Montgomery. He made his career as a federal prosecutor and then became attorney general of Alabama before going to the U.S. Senate.

What about our seven Congress people? Six out of the seven are Republicans.

Jo Bonner, the 1st District congressman, represents the Mobile and Baldwin areas of Alabama. This district has belonged to the GOP since the 1964 Goldwater landslide Republican sweep of Alabama. Bonner served as chief of staff for his predecessor, Sonny Callahan,and parlayed his knowledge of the district and Washington into winning his mentor’s open seat in 2002. Bonner was reared in Wilcox County, just north of his current district. He is indeed a graduate of the University of Alabama and Alabama’s law school, similar to the congressmen of yesteryear.

Martha Roby, the freshman Republican congressperson from the 2nd District, was born and reared in Montgomery, which is the bell cow of her district. Although she went to college out of state at New York University, she received her law degree in state from Cumberland School of Law. At age 31, she is easily the youngest member of our delegation. In fact, she looks so youthful that she is probably mistaken for a page at the capitol.

The 3rd District congressman, Mike Rogers, grew up in Anniston in the heart of his district. He went to college at Jacksonville State, which is an asset for running in that district. Rogers served in the state legislature prior to going to Congress in 2002.

Robert Aderholt, the congressman from the 4th District, was first elected in 1996 at the ripe old age of 31. He has now been in Congress for 15 years and is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Aderholt is a graduate of Birmingham Southern and Cumberland School of Law. He was born and reared in Haleyville in the heart of the 4th District.

The Tennessee Valley 5th District congressman is Mo Brooks. He was born in Charleston, S.C., but grew up and graduated from high school in Huntsville. He graduated from Duke but went to law school at the University of Alabama.

Spencer Bachus at 63 is the dean of our congressional delegation. His 6th District, which is made up of the silk stocking suburbs of Jefferson and Shelby County, is one of the most Republican districts in the country. He calls Vestavia Hills home and has represented the 6th District for 20 years. Bachus graduated from Auburn but then attended law school at Alabama.

Our lone Democrat is Terri Sewell. She grew up in Selma in the heart of the Black Belt and practiced law in Birmingham prior to being elected to Congress last year. Therefore, she can claim roots in two important places in her district. She has a B.A. from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard. This Ivy League education would be unusual for the men who were in her place 50 years ago. However, so would the fact that she is an African American female.

What a difference 50 years makes. Not only has the partisan makeup of our congressional delegation changed, so has the path to Washington.