Election issues addressed

Published 3:10 pm Wednesday, April 30, 2008

By Staff
Twenty-two years ago, when I was running for the United States Senate, I promised that each year I would visit every county in our state to listen and learn about the issues most important to Alabamians.  Since making that commitment, I have held 1,474 county meetings throughout the state. This year, after starting my county visits on January 14th, I finished my 67th meeting on Saturday, April 19th in Wilcox County. Over the years, these meetings have provided Alabamians an open forum to voice their concerns, frustrations, successes, suggestions and opinions on the activities of our government, and this year was no different.
It probably won't come as a surprise to know that rising gas prices was among the top concerns raised by attendees at my town hall meetings this year. In that regard, I believe that the number one challenge facing our nation today is energy. It is well known that gas prices are linked to oil production and right now, the demand for oil in our nation is greater than what is being produced.  According to the Energy Information Administration, to keep up with the demand, the United States is importing 5 billion barrels of oil each year. For each dollar used to import this oil, we export a dollar of our nation's wealth.
Contributing to the problem is a critical lack of oil refining capacity in the United States.  In fact, a new oil refinery has not been built here since 1976.  Our system is under great strain and the effects are felt by Americans each time they fill up at the pump.   
There is a solution - we need to find an alternative energy source that will run our cars and heat our homes.  Unfortunately, a realistic substitute for oil has yet to be discovered, though I am hopeful that a new generation of scientists and engineers will come up with a solution to free our nation of its dependence on foreign sources.
Another issue on the minds of Alabamians this year was the economy.  Although our nation's economy is currently in a downturn, Alabama's economy is generally strong, as demonstrated by the increasing number of foreign corporations that are choosing to call Alabama home.  Last year, ThyssenKrupp, the German steelmaker, chose south Alabama as the site to build a $3.7 billion steel and stainless steel manufacturing and processing facility.  Construction of this facility is expected to generate 29,000 jobs and when operational, ThyssenKrupp will employ 2,700 people.  
In February, the United States Air Force announced that the Northrop Grumman/EADS team won the contract to assemble and modify our military's next generation of air refueling tankers, known as the KC-45.  With this decision, Mobile is expected to gain 1,500 jobs, an additional 300 jobs with the follow-on commercial A330 work and approximately 5,000 supplier-related jobs statewide.  This will contribute $875 million annually to Alabama's economy.  These investments, along with our state's booming automotive industry, show that companies all over the world know that Alabama is open for business.
Finally, an issue that continues to weigh on the minds of all Alabamians is the war in Iraq. I believe that our mission in Iraq, along with the threat of Islamic radicalism, are among our greatest foreign policy challenges. The cost of our continued presence in Iraq must be weighed against our ability to reach the long term goal of bringing stability to the Middle East.  
The end date of our direct involvement in Iraq is not yet known, but there will be an end date.  Strengthening the political, military and economic institutions that will allow Iraq to prosper and stand on its own is a fundamental prerequisite for redeploying our forces back to the United States.  Ultimately, the future of Iraq lies with its government and with its people.  However, I firmly believe that whatever course our strategy in Iraq takes, it must never include abandoning our nation's principles or throwing away the sacrifices made by our armed forces.  The end date should come not as the result of an arbitrary “exit strategy,” but as the result of an environment in which Iraqi political and economic structures have the opportunity to succeed.
Throughout my travels in Alabama, we discussed many other issues and I assure you that I will keep the priorities of each county in mind as we move forward in the 110th Congress. Each year, I look forward to traveling the state, seeing old friends and hearing about what is on the minds of Alabamians.  I am honored to represent Alabama in the United States Senate and I will continue to work in the best interests of our state and our nation.
Richard Shelby is a member of the U.S. Senate. His office may be reached by calling (202)224-6518.