Our senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby, turns 85 this week. In March, he reached another milestone by surpassing Sen. John Sparkman as the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Alabama history; Shelby has been our senator 32-plus years.
Alabama has a treasure in Shelby, who is also the most successful U.S. Senator in Alabama history. During his illustrious tenure, Shelby has chaired the Senate Banking Committee, Intelligence Committee and Rules Committee. However, his current perch as chairman of the Appropriations Committee is unparalleled.
He has brought home the bacon during his five six-year terms like no one in history. However, it’s Katie bar the door in his sixth six-year term. In addition to chairing the Appropriations Committee, he also retained the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations and it is through this channel that he has pumped immense federal money into the Heart of Dixie in last year’s budget alone.
In the Fort Rucker budget alone, Shelby carved out an additional $95 million for future vertical-lift research which will help accelerate development of helicopters flown there; $10 million to upgrade Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopters; $1 billion for THAAD missiles; $111 million for long range anti-ship missiles; $306 million for JAG missiles; $484 million for Hellfire missiles, which are made in Troy and used for training at Fort Rucker; $254 million for Javelin missiles for the Army and Marine Corps; and $663 million for Joint Air-Surface Standoff missiles, which recently made their debut in strikes on Syria in response to that country’s use of chemical weapons.
Shelby has bestowed a largess of grants on UAB for medical research over the years. However, he recognizes the possibility of explosive growth in the Huntsville area and the amount of money he is putting into north Alabama is mind-boggling: $11 billion for instruments in transformational technologies to address future Army needs; $10.4 billion for missile defense; $664 million for hypersonic research; $184 million for Directed Energy; $306 million for Cyber Research; and $200 million for Space Launch vehicles.
Of all the things Shelby has procured for Alabama, specifically the Huntsville area, his hallmark legacy may be securing the placement of one of the largest FBI facilities in America. In fact, Huntsville will eventually be second only to Washington, D.C., for the FBI.
The FBI’s investment in Huntsville could reach $1 billion and 1,350 jobs will initially be transferred from Washington to north Alabama. The Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville already includes a U.S. Army base as well as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Folks, these 1,350 to 1,500 FBI jobs all pay more than the average Alabama salary. The Huntsville metro area is poised to grow more physically and economically than any area of America in the next decade in no small part to Shelby.
He has almost four years left on his sixth term, is in excellent health physically and mentally, and most Alabamians hope and pray he runs again in 2022. However, he will be 88.
If Shelby does not run, who might follow him? He might be involved in picking his successor and he realizes the importance of youth and how it predicates future seniority.
First on most lists is State Rep. Bill Poole, who like Shelby hails from Tuscaloosa. He is only 42 but has served in the legislature for nine years, most of that time as chairman of the House Education Budget Committee. He is the most respected member of the House and his adroit handling of the Infrastructure Package had many longtime Statehouse observers labeling him as a future governor or senator.
Another name to remember is Katie Boyd Britt, 37, who is Shelby’s former chief of staff and current chief executive officer of the Business Council of Alabama.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the legislature and can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.