Shelby shares views with Hale, Greene counties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Residents of Greensboro, Marion, and Eutaw, perhaps stung by Linden Lumber Company’s sudden lay-offs last week, took the opportunity Saturday to question state senator Richard Shelby about the increasing loss of U.S. jobs to overseas companies. Shelby, recently elected to a fourth term in the Senate, vowed to fight for the Alabama economy.

“These trade negotiators for other countries right now are eating our lunch,” he said. “Our trade negotiators have failed…we have a gross imbalance of trade with China, for example. Our business with other countries has to be a two-way street, and right now too much of it is one-way.”

Shelby allowed that the U.S. should continue doing business with other countries, arguing against high tariffs and citing the positive impact of Asian-owned car manufacturing plants here in Alabama. But he added “I’m not sure about our current policies…we destroy the value of the dollar if we allow [the imbalance] to continue.” To combat the imbalance and promote American businesses, Shelby suggested the government “change the tax code to create incentives for businesses that manufacture their goods here in the U.S…We can create our own destiny when we invest in American business, when we invest in ourselves.”

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Shelby’s appearances in the Black Belt, including the previous Saturday’s meetings in Demopolis and York, are part of a statewide tour for the Senator to listen to his constituents and thank them for his reelection. Shelby told Marion residents how “appreciative” he was, saying “I received 37% of the vote here, and that is very high for a Republican…this will be my 19th year in the Senate, my 27th in total in Washington, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

Although Shelby passed on thanks for Alabama’s vote from President Bush, he also told residents “I am accountable to you. I’m not up there to be a rubber stamp for a President, whether he’s a either a Democrat or a Republican.” Shelby drew a big laugh with one comment about his relationship to the President. “Someone asked if I always agree with President Bush,” he said. “I told him ‘I don’t always agree with my wife!'”

Shelby admitted that he disagreed with Bush on the issue of immunity for illegal immigrants, a hot topic with residents in attendance. “These people are willfully breaking and flaunting our laws,” he said. “Why would we want to grant them amnesty?” A chart brought by Shelby showed that nearly 9 million illegal aliens live in the U.S. today, and Shelby questioned why immigration officials could not tell him how many of the yearly 40 millions legal visitors to the U.S. actually returned to their home country. Immigration enforcement is, in Shelby’s words, “a shambles.”

Another item of foreign policy that Shelby disapproved of is the U.S.’s close ties to the United Nations. When asked if the U.S. should resign from the organization, Shelby stopped short of calling for that step but added, “I’m not a big fan of Kofi Annan, and I don’t think the U.N. can be reformed…with all these resolutions they pass, and then never enforce, it’s like they’re an intramural debate team.”

Shelby concluded the meetings by outlining his hope for an extension of Interstate 85, one running clear from Montgomery to Cuba that would be, in his words, a “bonanza” for the Black Belt. Although he said he would have to be “lucky” to find the funding (as much as $100 million to begin the project), Shelby added “I’m not quitting…It’s still just a dream, but you always gotta start with a dream.”

Other points addressed in the Senator’s meetings:

* Former Marion mayor Ed Daniel thanked the Senator for including the Black Belt counties in the national Delta Regional Commission, which consists primarily of counties adjacent to the Mississippi River. Shelby joked that after that inclusion, which occurred in the late hours of a legislative session, “nobody talked to me in the Senate for a week!”

* Shelby said it was “stupid” to stop dredging silt from the Alabama River.

The plan is supported by environmental groups to return the river to its “natural” course of flow, but according to Shelby would harm industry and shipping on the river.

* When asked what could be done to help those on Medicaid and struggling to pay for prescription drugs, Shelby endorsed a freer market for pharmaceutical companies. “There’s not enough competition,” he said.

* In Greensboro, Shelby argued for tort reform, saying, “frivolous lawsuits are costing all of us a lot of money.” He agreed with a questioner, however, that more analysis of the situation was called for and that he could not immediately get behind “sweeping federal legislation.”

* When asked about veterans of the War on Terror returning with diseases caused by American weapons built with low-grade uranium, Shelby expressed concern and said that if hard medical fact confirmed a problem, he would act.

* Shelby pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his pocket when asked what would become of the Senate if the U.S. agreed to rule by the U.N. “I carry this, and just this,” he said.

“I don’t carry a copy of the U.N. charter, that’s for sure.”