State Officials Honor Retired Sen. Richard Shelby, “Alabama’s Greatest Builder”
Gov. Kay Ivey and other state officials on Thursday paid tribute to former U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, saying he transformed the economic and education landscape of the state during his decades of public service.
Shelby, 88, retired this year after serving 36 years in the U.S. Senate in a career where he harnessed seniority, political savvy and relationships to become one the Senate’s most influential members. The Alabama Legislature met in a Thursday morning session held at the state Capitol to honor Shelby.
“When we think of Alabama’s monumental U.S. senators, for many, Lister Hill, Jim Allen, and John Sparkman come to mind. While each was known for expertly navigating Washington politics to benefit our state, I think it’s fair to say their impacts have been rivaled and eclipsed by the work of Senator Shelby,” Ivey said.
“Thanks to the people of Alabama, and I owe them so much,” Shelby said. “We are on the roll in Alabama. We’ve come a long way. We’ve had some challenges, you have them here, but I’ve always thought we’re in this together,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said Shelby forever changed Alabama by bringing projects for universities, government installations, infrastructure and encouraging the development of aerospace and other industries in the state.
“He should be forever known as Alabama’s greatest builder,” Ainsworth said, adding that the impact of Shelby’s work will be felt for generations. “Perhaps the most important and lasting thing that Richard Shelby has built is his legacy, a legacy that provides jobs, hope and opportunity to our children, our grandchildren and their children after that for decades to come.”
Shelby told the state leaders that it was “good to be home,” and said he always believed elected leaders should work together for the good of the people they represent. “It’s not about me. It’s about our state, the people and the future of our state,” he said.
The longtime senator announced in 2021 that he would not seek another term. Shelby was replaced in the Senate by his one-time chief of staff, Katie Britt, who was elected in November.
Shelby, a lawyer and former member of the Alabama Legislature, was first elected as a conservative Democrat in 1978 to the U.S. House of Representatives during the party’s waning days of control in the Deep South. In the House, he belonged to a caucus of Southern conservatives known as the boll weevils. Shelby was elected to the Senate in 1986 but switched to the GOP in 1994.
He became known for his measured demeanor and ability to harness his clout and relationships to direct billions of dollars in projects back to his home state of Alabama. He also had the rare accomplishment of chairing four major Senate committees — Appropriations; Intelligence; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Rules and Administration.
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