Taking a look at Congress

Published 8:14 pm Thursday, February 27, 2014

Last week’s column expounded on the two different concepts that members of Congress perceive their roles to be in Washington. Our two senators are classic but different examples. Jeff Sessions is the quintessential ideologue and Richard Shelby is the classic caretaker.

What about our seven members of congress? We have seven congress people, six Republicans and one Democrat. All seven pretty much toe the party line. All six Republicans vote straight down the party line and our lone Democrat votes with the Democratic leadership. Therefore, you would have to classify them all as ideologues.

We have no congress people with the power to be a caretaker like Richard Shelby. It remains to be seen whether any of them will become rainmakers in the future. It is not really their fault; they just have not been on the Potomac very long. The key to power in the U.S. Congress is seniority. The longer you stay the more powerful you become. It usually takes 20 years in Congress before you wield any power. It is actually closer to 30 years before you are powerful and then only if you are chairman of a committee and your committee spends money from the U.S. Treasury.

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The only one of our seven-member delegation who has been in Congress 20 years is Spencer Bachus but he is leaving. Whoever takes Bachus’ place will have to toil in obscurity for a decade before folks in Washington know their name. Bachus now chairs the Financial Services Committee. This chairmanship is very important to the banks, credit unions and insurance companies throughout the nation and on Wall Street. However, it does not translate into largesse for Alabama.

When Spencer first went to Congress in the early 1990’s, three of the nation’s largest banks were domiciled in his district in Birmingham. Now there is only one. Spencer could raise a lot of campaign money as Chairman of Financial Services, but that is not bringing home the bacon to Birmingham. It rests on Richard Shelby’s shoulders to take care of the UAB Medical facility, which is now the largest employer in Birmingham.

Robert Aderholt now becomes the dean of the delegation. Robert got to Washington at a very young age. He is in his ninth term in Congress and serves on the Appropriations Committee. He followed a giant, Tom Bevill, who moved rivers and mountains from Washington to his 4th District, which stretches across North Alabama from Mississippi to Georgia just above Birmingham. Aderholt can and probably will be another Bevill.

Third district congressman, Mike Rogers, has 10 years seniority. He is in his early 50’s and can easily stay another 20 years. Rogers served in the legislature before going to Congress. His district encompasses East Alabama. It includes Anniston and Auburn. He does a good job for his people.

Like Birmingham, Mobile lost their congressman this year when Jo Bonner quit to take a government relations post at the University of Alabama. His replacement, Bradley Byrne, is very able but will be in the same boat as the freshman who will be elected from Birmingham this year. By the time Bradley gets any traction on the seniority ladder, he will be 70 years old.

We have three members who have only three years in Washington. The two Republicans, Martha Roby of Montgomery and Mo Brooks of Huntsville, have staked out their turf as reactionary conservatives. They are both in the Tea Party wing of the GOP caucus. Their freshman class of 2010 is very conservative to say the least and Brooks and Roby are out to show Capitol Hill observers that they fit into their group very nicely.

Terri Sewell is our only Democrat. Ms. Sewell is a Harvard educated lawyer who was successful in her Birmingham law career before going to Congress in 2010. She represents the state’s only majority African American district. The 7th District encompasses the urban area of Birmingham and stretches throughout West Alabama and includes most of the Black Belt. She is well respected among the Democratic leadership and the Black Congressional Caucus. She has been picked by her Party to be a superstar. She is on a fast track to congressional leadership.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.