Jan 12 2011

Shelby: Dealing with threats is part of being a lawmaker

GREENSBORO | U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said Tuesday that threats against public officials come with the territory and there is not much the government can really do to increase security, especially for federal lawmakers.

The Tuscaloosa Republican made the comments at a town meeting in Greensboro in the wake of the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabriele Giffords in Arizona on Jan. 8 during a meeting with constituents.

“It could happen anywhere,” Shelby said of the shooting, in which a gunman also killed six people.

“We’re all threatened at times in public life and I don’t carry on about it, I just keep going,” he told about 30 constituents at the Pie Lab on Main Street. “I get threatening letters and I have had people threaten to do me bodily harm at times, but that’s just part of the job.”

Shelby, who also held town meetings in Pickens, Fayette and Bibb counties and addressed the Tuscaloosa Rotary Club on Tuesday, said, “I don’t believe we should drastically spend money in the Congress and have guards wherever we go, because that is not the kind of open society that we want and it would cost a fortune.”

Shelby has made a point of holding town halls in each of Alabama’s 67 counties every year, and said he has had more than 1,700 open public meetings since he was elected to Congress in 1978 and never travels with a bodyguard.

Before taking questions, Shelby opened the meeting by saying that the new Congress elected last November is facing a host of challenges.

“We’re challenged around the world by other nations,” he said. “We are at a disadvantage because we have borrowed too much money, spent too much money and saved too little money.

“We’re at a crossroads in this country and we are going to have to put our economic house in order, just like you would and I would.”

At the Rotary meeting earlier in the day, Shelby said the nation’s debt is rising out of control. He said that while the U.S. remains the world’s biggest producer of goods and is still the world’s richest nation, it is falling behind fast-growing countries such as China and India. He said both Republicans and Democrats in Washington were to blame for the nation’s failure to, as he put it, “put our financial house in order.”

Shelby has been one of the most prolific members of Congress in securing such earmarks, commonly known as pork, but when asked about the new sense of fiscal restraint in Washington, he seemed resigned to bringing home less money.

“It’s over now,” he said. “I built a lot of engineering science buildings at universities all over the state — $700 million — and we’ve also brought home about $300 billion for things like the Redstone Arsenal and created thousands and thousands of jobs.

“But that’s gone now, we won’t be doing that for a while now.”