Jan 18 2006

Shelby: Doing all he can for state

Andalusia Star News

By Jeffery L. Biggs


A handful of Covington County citizens gathered Saturday morning to listen to Alabama ’s senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa), talk about issues concerning the state and the upcoming session of Congress.


Introduced by Andalusia Mayor Jerry Andrews, those gathered in the Community Room at Covington County Bank listed to Sen. Shelby talk about some of the many projects currently underway in Covington County with federal assistance — most notably the Andalusia-Opp Airport expansion.


“$30 million has been secured for the airport,” Sen. Shelby said. “We are going to make this a first class facility. For years other parts of the country have benefited from good federal projects. We want Alabama and Covington County to benefit as well.”


The airport expansion project is arguably the largest project underway using federal dollars in the county, but Shelby said he’s not stopping there.


“I’m doing all I can to bring money to help bring industry, infrastructure, and trade to help Alabama,” he said, noting that Alabama is one of the states experiencing an upswing in its economy.


“The economy is good across the country, but it’s good in Alabama , too,” he said. “This county’s seen hard times. It was deeply affected by closures in the textile industry, but it’s rebounding. Unemployment in this county is 3.2 percent. It’s 3.6 percent in the state, and 4.9 percent in the nation. What that means is you virtually have zero unemployment and it’s hard to find people to work in the jobs that are open. That can be a good problem.”


But the economy wasn’t the only thing on the senator’s mind. Like so many others, Iraq and the U.S. presence there was a major topic of discussion.


“The worst thing we can do is cut and run (in Iraq ),” the senator said. “We are making progress there. I think you will see great progress there this year.”


Referencing another war that divided much of the country, Sen. Shelby said Iraq cannot be like Vietnam .


“We cannot experience another unilateral withdrawal like Vietnam ,” he said. “We did not lose Vietnam . If you check the battles, our soldiers never lost. In Iraq , we cannot let the same thing happen. — we cannot unilaterally withdraw all our troops. We must have credibility in the Muslim world. I think you will see great things in the coming year.”


Of course one of the hottest topics on most senior citizens minds right now is the new Medicare drug program — something the senator spoke about, along with Medicare and Medicaid funding.


“The new drug program was meant to give seniors choices and lower drug prices. It’s caused a lot of confusion,” Sen. Shelby said, holding up a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal outlining some of the program’s features. “It took me several times to read this before I understood it. The drug companies placed this ad and it’s just hard to understand. The program is hard to understand and we (Congress) are getting the message, and I think the administration is, too.”


He added the Congress will likely tackle the issue in the upcoming session.


From there, the senator’s talk also included the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito — whom the senator said he will vote for. “I believe he’s well qualified,” he added.


The budget, “We’re looking at a $2.4 trillion budget with 21 percent paid in to Social Security, 19 percent paid in to national defense, and 12 percent to Medicare and 8 percent to Medicaid. That’s almost half the budget.”


Immigration — “There are 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in this country right now,” he said. “That will be a hot issue in the Congress, but there are some who just don’t want to touch it. People come into this country, and we know they come in, we just don’t know if they leave. There’s got to be a better way to keep track of them.”


And of course, back to Iraq .


“I don’t believe we had the best intelligence to start with, but on the other hand, we do know he had chemical weapons and was seeking other weapons,” the senator said. “Yes, we made mistakes in Iraq, but we will leave Iraq and it will be a better place and we will be a safer country.”


As for four-laning Alabama 55, Shelby added that project could be accomplished on the state level with help from Seth Hammett, Speaker of the House.