Apr 21 2008
By Kenneth Mullinax
Today’s town hall meetings in the River Region by U. S. Sen. Richard Shelby marked a milestone for Alabama’s senior congressional member.
By the end of a day-long schedule, Shelby will have visited each of Alabama’s 67 counties just since January, said Laura Henderson, Shelby’s Washington spokeswoman.
Speaking at a packed luncheon meeting at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Prattville at noon — one of five events the Republican held today — he said he finds the meetings informative and interesting.
“I just enjoy getting out and discovering what’s on the hearts and minds of my friends back home here in Alabama,” Shelby said. “If more elected officials conducted these types of events, we would have broader and better representation in the congress,” he said.
Saturday began early for Shelby, who traveled from Tuscaloosa to an early morning breakfast meeting in Alexander City, moved to a morning coffee in Tallassee, a luncheon in Prattville, a mid-afternoon event in Hayneville and ended the day with a dinner meeting in Camden, Henderson said.
Shelby has completed his 1,472 town hall meetings in Alabama since he was elected to the senate, Henderson said.
Shelby said meeting with the people back home is one of the most important responsibilities he holds as an elected official.
“These town hall meetings are important to me because it allows people to have easy access to me with any concerns or problems they may face,” Shelby said.
“And, it allows me to interact with regular folks, learning how they feel on national issues, without them having to go through a lot of red tape,” he said.
Shelby said a few nay-sayers scoff at how productive constituent-based meetings can be, but recalls how one such meeting fostered an idea that grew into an important law.
“About 15 years ago, I had a town hall meeting in Huntsville where a woman brought up the topic of delinquent child support payments,” Shelby said.
She spoke of how her divorced husband refused to pay his court-ordered child support, leaving her and her children to rely on help from the state, he said.
He said since the man had moved outside Alabama, she couldn’t get any legal help to force him to pay her.
“I took her problem to Washington, put my senate lawyers on it, drafted a bill, got it passed through the congress and President George H. W. Bush signed it, which gave prosecutors a way to enforce child support orders nationwide,” Shelby said.
He said the law has enabled divorced mothers to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in delinquent child support payments that are now allowing children to have a better life.
“These meetings do provide us with many good ideas from our citizens that help me do a better job,” Shelby said.
“I’ve heard some pretty good suggestions (Saturday) . . . that I have written down and which just one day may end up as a law like the one I got from a mother in Huntsville,” he said.