WASHINGTON - Alabama lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Martha Roby, have seats on congressional committees that could boost support for the state's military bases and defense industry.
Roby, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, was recently appointed to the panel’s subcommittee on defense. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby serves on the Appropriations defense subcommittee in the Senate.
“It’s not just a huge opportunity for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, which it is, but for our entire state,” Roby said. “Our military footprint in the state of Alabama is huge and not just on the active military bases components, but also all of those who support the defense industry that exist in Alabama.”
Stephen Borrelli, a political scientist at the University of Alabama, said the assignments are crucial to helping Alabama get its share of defense spending and contracts.
“Shelby’s presence on Appropriations obviously has been very beneficial to Alabama and the same thing with Congresswoman Roby,” said Borrelli. “Given how important defense and defense contracts are to the state of Alabama, I think that’s extremely important.”
The state is home to several military bases, including Maxwell Air Force Base and Fort Rucker Army Base.
Lawmakers on Appropriations committees face tougher challenges than in the past to steering federal money for special projects, or earmarks, to their states. The practice was banned in 2010.
“But members of Appropriations still have quite a bit of influence on where, if there’s any kind of discretion, money gets spent,’’ Borrelli said.
Roby, who is serving her fourth term representing parts of Montgomery and southeastern Alabama, said she has pushed over the years to get a seat on the defense subcommittee particularly because of its importance to the state.
“Since Day 1 in Congress I have made it a priority to ensure that our military is well funded and that we provide certainty when it comes to sending our men and women into harm’s way that they have everything they need when we ask them to go,” she said.
Roby said it helps that other members of the Alabama delegation are on key military committees.
Republican Reps. Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks and Brady Byrne serve on the House Armed Services Committee. Republican Sen. Luther Strange, the newest member of the delegation, was recently appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Strange was sworn in last week to replace Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the new U.S. attorney general.
Strange was assigned to three other committees, including Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Budget and Energy and Natural Resources.
“I look forward to hitting the ground running in these four critical committees to advance conservative principles and fight for a more lean and efficient federal government,” Strange said in a statement.
Borrelli said having a freshman senator will mean a loss in the delegation's clout.
“The Senate still does operate to a large extent by seniority and he comes in with even less seniority than the people who were elected last November,” he said. “And it takes a while to accumulate seniority.”
Borrelli said Strange has been a lobbyist so that may work to his advantage, particularly compared to other freshmen.
Roby said Sessions will be missed, but the delegation is still strong. “Our delegation is so well positioned to do great things for the state of Alabama now more than ever,'' she said.
Shelby, who is serving his sixth term and easily won his re-election last November, will serve as chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee. He also picked up another committee assignment replacing Sessions on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“This is a critical time for our nation’s environment and public works,” Shelby said in a recent statement.
Shelby said he will work to "rolling back unnecessary EPA regulations that harm economic growth.”
Roby, meanwhile, has also been asked to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues, including criminal law enforcement, federal courts, immigration, voting rights and civil liberties.
Roby said she’s particularly interested in addressing human sex trafficking, which she called a major issue in Alabama and across the country. Roby said her interest grew last summer after watching a documentary on human sex trafficking in the United States.
“It really grabbed me,’’ she said. “I thought to myself in this moment, this is an issue that I really want to plug myself into and be a voice’’ on the issue.
The committee is also expected to deal with a host of hot-button issues, including immigration. Meanwhile, Roby said she will continue to push for accountability at VA medical centers.
Borrelli said it’s usual for a lawmaker on the House Appropriations Committee to also serve on other key committees.
“The fact that she’s able to get on both Judiciary and Appropriations is quite remarkable and kind of shows, considering her relative lack of seniority, that she’s kind of an up-and-coming person among House Republicans,” he said of Roby.