Mar 02 2010

Shelby speaks in Tuscaloosa

By Eryn Phillips

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Monday that the gambling debate is creating political chaos in Alabama.

Shelby made his remarks in a packed ballroom at Hotel Capstone during a stop on a tour through the state to address constituent’s concerns while Congress is in recess. Shelby also discussed his legislative goals for Congress’ 2010 session.

Last week, pro-bingo protestors ratcheted up the already sharp debate by shouting down Gov. Bob Riley on the State Capitol’s steps during an attempt to speak out against illegal gambling. The event focused statewide attention on the gambling debate in the Legislature.

Shelby said he is opposed to gambling in Alabama.

“I’ve always thought gambling was illegal,” Shelby said. “I’m not a gambling man.”

Shelby addressed his goals for Congress, saying that education, health-care and fiscal reform are all daunting tasks after the recent economic downturn.

“We are running the risk of losing 300 to 500 banks this year,” said Shelby, ranking member of the Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban affairs Committee. “One big, big, big problem is the national debt, which is now at $14 trillion.”

Shelby said America’s health-care system is the world’s best but needs improvement. However, he does not support President Barack Obama’s approach to reforming the health-care system.

“The Obama Administration wants to turn it upside down and people don’t want that,” he said.

Shelby said he thinks the health-care debate will cost the Democrats in the November election.

“If the Democrats run this health-care proposal through reconciliation, we (the Republicans) have a great chance in November,” Shelby said.

And Republicans will not concede the health-care plan without a fight.

“It’s going to be a bloody year in the House and Senate,” Shelby said.

Closer to home, the University of Alabama is building a 900,000-square-foot engineering and science center. Shelby, who has been instrumental in providing federal funds for its construction and other UA projects, said funding is available for the expansion.

“No other teaching university will be able to compare to it, not even schools like MIT,” Shelby said.

Shelby also noted that UA enrollment will reach 30,000 for the 2010 school year, which “will really help the university.”