MONTGOMERY — On Thursday, the Alabama Legislature met for a joint session in the old house chambers in the Capitol building to honor now-retired U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.
The Legislature introduced a joint resolution honoring Shelby for his time both in the Alabama Legislature and representing Alabama in the halls of Congress.
Shelby was elected to the Alabama Senate in 1970 and served until 1978. After that, he did the U.S. House for four terms, and then Shelby served in the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 2023. He switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1995, after which he served as chairman and ranking member on several central congressional committees.
Shelby was honored by Gov. Kay Ivey, State Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills).
Ivey first took the podium to offer her thanks to Shelby for his service, giving him high praise for the many economic benefits he brought to the state during his time in Congress.
Ivey said Shelby would be remembered as one of Alabama's "monumental" U.S. Senators, calling his career "unrivaled."
"Senator Shelby, as Governor, I say, 'welcome home,'" Ivey said. "Senator, while you made your mark in the halls of the United States Capitol, you began your long and unrivaled political journey right here in the Alabama State Capitol. We are honored to have you back. Senator Shelby's career of public service to this state and our country has been remarkable. He is Alabama's longest-serving United States Senator at 36 years; that's six terms. And before that, eight years in the U.S. House, representing Alabama's 7th congressional district."
Listing the pantheon of Alabama's renowned U.S. senators, Ivey declared all had been "rivaled and eclipsed by the work of Senator Richard Shelby."
"As a proponent of improving educational opportunities, Senator Shelby has steered literally hundreds of millions of dollars into cutting-edge science and engineering programs at many Alabama universities," Ivey said. "[H]is wisdom will benefit Alabama for many decades."
Ainsworth offered an equally glowing recollection of Shelby's legacy, saying Shelby should be known as "Alabama's greatest builder."
"Because of Richard Shelby's efforts in the corridors, committee rooms and chambers of the U.S. Capitol, Alabama has built roads and bridges, buildings and libraries, military bases and command headquarters," Ainsworth outlined. "His work has built world-class research programs and state-of-the-art labs at Alabama's four-year colleges and universities. Richard Shelby's relationships in Washington have built a thriving aerospace industry in Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley that promises to continue growing and producing high-paying, long-lasting, 21st-century jobs well into the future."
Reed spoke about the influence of Shelby on generations of leaders and politicians in the state.
"I would echo everything that's been said eloquently by our Governor and by our Lieutenant Governor in regard to your vast accomplishments and the strength with which you have carried the title and worn the mantle of responsibility for the people of the great state of Alabama," Reed said.
"If you go through his room, you're going to find and identify, Senator – and I'm one of them – those young people that have been forever influenced by your character, by your service, by your dedication and the use of your intellect on behalf of the people of Alabama," he continued. "And, representing many of us, as I would look around the room and see that have been encouraged, that have been given wise council, that have been offered advice, that have been pulled back maybe a few times by the like of Richard Shelby."
"On top of his legislative success, he is a man that personifies honesty, integrity and proves that throughout his years of service each day, and we appreciate you doing that for our state," Ledbetter said.
Waggoner received more laughs than the rest of the speakers combined, recounting stories of his time spent with Shelby in the Alabama Legislature.
"You may wonder why I am standing here out of all the House members and Senate members that have known Richard through the years," Waggoner said. "It appears I am the only one in the Alabama legislature still standing – that is the key word, still standing – that served with Richard when he came to the Alabama Senate."
Waggoner told a story from 1975, where he introduced a bill for $8.5 million in appropriations to buy 40 square blocks for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). When the bill went before the legislature, Shelby began to speak at length, leading Waggoner to question if Shelby was filibustering the bill. When Shelby left the Senate chambers to take a phone call, the Senate called a vote, and the bill passed.
"Now UAB has a lot of buildings on the campus named after Senator Shelby, OK, lots of buildings. And Richard, I want you to remember this forever: they can name all the buildings on UAB's campus after you, but please remember one thing, your buildings are on my property," Waggoner concluded, receiving a standing ovation.
Shelby was last to the podium, repeatedly exclaiming "wow" as he approached and quipping that Waggoner, 86, was so old he knew Abraham Lincoln pretty well.
Shelby continued, boasting of the economic benefits he assisted in bringing to the state.
"[Alabama] is open for business and [has] one of the lowest unemployment rates in the county," Shelby said. "And everybody here knows, why is that important? Economics drives politics. Economics drives opportunity for all of our people. Schools, good education, good infrastructure, all of this, it's all commerce for a better life for our people. I've tried to run that road and push that road, I think."
"We're on a role in Alabama," he continued. "We've come a long way. We've got some challenges; you have them here. But I've always thought, we're in this together. You know, we're all citizens of Alabama, all the people. And, if we work together and advance everybody's education, economic opportunity, we're going to be a much better state and a great place to live."
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