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Alabama leaders recognize former U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby for decades of service

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Richard Shelby, the longest serving U.S. senator from Alabama at 36 years, was recognized by state leaders Thursday during a special event at the State Capitol.

Well over 100 people congregated in the Old House Chamber, including Gov. Kay Ivey, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, among others. Upon entering the chamber, Shelby was met by a round of applause as he made his way toward the chamber’s podium.

Ivey was the first to lay praise on Shelby, welcoming the recently-retired senator to the Capitol he served in more than 50 years ago.

“To Sen. Shelby, as governor, I say welcome home. While you made your mark in the halls of the United States Capitol, you began your long and unrivaled political journey right here in the Alabama State Capitol,” Ivey said.

“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 Sen. Richard Shelby.”

Beginning his legislative career in 1970 as a state senator, Shelby went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in 1978, serving four consecutive terms. In 1986, Shelby was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, going on to serve six consecutive terms from 1987 – 2023, switching party affiliation to Republican under President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Reed said Shelby inspired generations of state leaders.

“If you go through this room, you’re going to find and identify – and I am one of them – those young people that have been forever influenced by your character, by your service, by your dedication, and the use of your intellect on behalf of the people of Alabama,” Reed said. 

“So senator, I want to thank you for 100 reasons, but the most important one I want to thank you for is the personal encouragement that you’ve given to me and so many others to follow in your footsteps to be a servant of the people.”

Thanking state leaders for their kind remarks, Shelby opened his speech by reflecting on his personal history with the Old House Chamber, where lawmakers used to meet prior to relocating in the current State House across the street.

“I was walking through the chamber and I thought, 52 years ago, I, along with others, were in the Legislature,” Shelby said. “So today, I’ve come full circle; I’m back where I started, and it’s good to be home.”

Noting the challenges Alabama has faced over the years, Shelby urged state leaders in the room to focus on delivering economic opportunities for all citizens of the state of Alabama.

“You honored me, but it’s not about me, it’s about our state, our people, and the future of the state,” he said. 

“Economics drives politics, drives opportunity for all of our people; good education, good infrastructure, all of this, it all in congress (offers) a better opportunity for everybody. I’ve tried to run that road. We’re on a roll in Alabama, we’ve come a long way. We’ve got some challenges, but I’ve always thought we’re in this together, we’re all citizens of Alabama. If we work together and advance everybody’s education, economic opportunity, we’re going to be a much better state and a great place to live.”

Several former Shelby staff members were also in attendance, including his final chief of staff Watson Donald, who has now returned to the state and works in state government affairs at the Alabama Power Company.

After the event concluded, an impromptu photo line emerged in which dozens of state leaders took their picture with Shelby for half an hour.

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