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Blog: Bonner Column: Beginning a New Chapter of Service to the State of Alabama


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Last Thursday, I announced that I would be retiring from Congress effective August 15, 2013, to take a newly-created position of Vice Chancellor for Government Relations and Economic Development at The University of Alabama System. Governor Bentley is expected to announce a date for a special election to fill my seat. Below are comments I made during my announcement.

At the outset, I trust you know that serving as your congressman this past decade has truly been one of the highest honors of my life. The opportunity to work with and for the people I represent in the 1st District -- during this time, building on the remarkable legacies of two statesmen, Congressmen Jack Edwards and Sonny Callahan, has indeed been the utmost privilege.

While no job comes without its challenges, the opportunities you have provided my staff and me -- since I was first elected in November 2002 -- have been unparalleled as it relates to providing critical leadership -- and key constituent services -- to South Alabama during a time of two wars, the aftermath of Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and a long, deep recession that affected every corner of the First District and every aspect of our economy.

Although no list is complete, I hope you would agree that, together, we have made a positive difference in the life of South Alabama. And while we have been involved in countless projects over the past decade, three, in particular, stand out for which I am most proud:

Working with Governor Bob Riley, we helped bring ThyssenKrupp to South Alabama, making it one of the largest private investments in U.S. history at more than $5 billion; Working with Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, we secured the contracts for Austal to build more than twenty new ships for the U.S. Navy. Today, the Austal workforce is approaching close to 4,000 jobs and the combined economic impact of these contracts is valued at more than $5 billion.

And, without question, no list would be complete without also noting our significant involvement in helping to bring Airbus to Mobile. Working with both Governors Riley and Bentley, the groundbreaking last month at the old Brookley Field truly represents a new day for South Alabama. Initially valued at more than $600 million and 1,000 jobs, this project ensures our area will be the epicenter of America's newest aerospace corridor.

Legislatively, I am also proud to have provided critical support for the Port of Alabama, the University of South Alabama and a host of other vital transportation and infrastructure programs during my decade in Congress. And, without a doubt, my most satisfying legislative accomplishment was working with others along the Gulf Coast to help enact the RESTORE Act last year. When fully implemented, this legislation has the potential to compensate our area in the aftermath of the BP-Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

It is only fair to ask what would motivate me to leave Congress, especially before my term is up. Just so you know, I was not looking for another job; in fact, the opportunity to work for The University of Alabama System was both unexpected and certainly unsolicited. Even though I was grateful to, once again, run for reelection unopposed last November, both Janée and I have known that this time would one day come; quite frankly, it has come sooner than either of us could have anticipated. Moreover, I also firmly believe there are many ways you can serve your state and nation without having your name on a ballot.

That said, while I had every intention of completing this term, sometimes opportunities come along that are so rare -- and so special -- that it forces you to alter even your best-made plans. Such an opportunity arose a few days ago when I was contacted about the chance to go to work for The University of Alabama System.

As you may know, my connection to The University of Alabama runs deep. In addition to graduating from The University in 1982, one of the proudest moments for our family was when Dr. Witt and the Board of Trustees named my sister, Judy, the 28th President of The University of Alabama last November.

Furthermore, during his decade at The University of Alabama, both as UA President and now as Chancellor, Bob Witt has become one of the most transformational, visionary leaders in higher education our state has ever known.

Therefore, the thought of working with Dr. Witt, Judy and UAB President Ray Watts and UAH President Bob Altenkirch is extremely energizing. And after considerable thought and heartfelt prayer, I decided to accept this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to work for The University of Alabama System.

In closing, allow me to once again thank you -- from the bottom of my heart -- for the privilege the people of South Alabama have given me.

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