Looking Back at 16 Years in the U.S. Congress
More than a year has passed since I announced I would retire from the U.S. House of Representatives after eight terms in office. As I finally prepare to leave, I feel tremendously blessed to have had the opportunity to be your voice in Washington during such a historic period.
After 30 years as a newspaper publisher, I remember well the excitement of first being elected in 1992 and my eagerness to get to work as a freshman congressman. Immediately upon arriving on Capitol Hill, I joined an unusual alliance of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in a long-shot attempt to block passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We knew its approval would usher the exodus of Alabama jobs to Mexico. Unfortunately, we were proven correct.
After getting seats on the House Armed Services, Agriculture, and Veterans' Affairs committees, I was tapped to become chairman of two different VA subcommittees after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1995. This culminated in my widely publicized hearings into the improper granting of burial waivers at Arlington National Cemetery. My subcommittee's work garnered national press attention for several months, resulting in the removal of the remains of a wealthy former Clinton Administration supporter who was ineligible for an Arlington burial.
I also used my investigatory powers as subcommittee chair to root out mismanagement and corruption in the Central Alabama Veterans' Healthcare System that was adversely impacting our local veteran population. My oversight did not stop there as I sought to improve the care of veterans in nearly a dozen VA hospitals nationwide, including one in west Los Angeles that severely mistreated some veteran patients. I was also proud to locate a beneficial VA outpatient clinic in Dothan, one of the first such clinics in the country.
Soon after, I became chairman of a House Agriculture subcommittee overseeing peanuts and worked long hours to help rewrite the 2002 Farm Bill to ensure that our peanut industry remained viable in the face of impending changes. The peanut industry has actually expanded in Alabama since that time.
I've also used my seniority on the House Armed Services Committee to help promote our southeast Alabama military bases. We've witnessed $250 million in new construction at Fort Rucker and another $300 million at Maxwell-Gunter since 1993, and both bases have seen major renovations and modernizations, not to mention surviving three Base Closure rounds in 1993, 1995 and 2005. I've also pushed hard to protect defense industry jobs from Tallassee to Dothan, employing thousands of people in our communities.
From funding the Elba and Geneva levees, to a new Dothan airport terminal, to a life-saving Wiregrass mobile mammography unit, there is so much else that I've worked on but don't have space to mention.
On the national scene, I've held senior positions on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces. In the latter, I served as chairman and ranking member and was an advocate for securing America's military and civilian space communications systems upon which our defense and economy are extremely reliant.
With my offices closing their doors in a few short weeks, Barbara and I wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to all those who've joined us and supported our efforts to make southeast Alabama a better place to live. God bless our country, our military and their families, and each of you.