Congress gets tenure for life

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2008

By Staff
Congressional seats are almost equivalent to federal judgeships. As you know, federal jurists are appointed for life. Congressmen run every two years but in reality they basically have lifetime tenure. Members of Congress stay practically as long as they want. The system heavily favors incumbents. With the inherent advantages congressional incumbents enjoy they are seldom seriously challenged. Therefore, it is rare when a seat comes open and is doubly rare that we have two seats open in Alabama this year.
Republican Congressman Terry Everett announced in the fall that he was leaving the Second District open this year, after sixteen years of occupying the seat. However, the big surprise was Bud Cramer's quiet and unexpected decision not to seek reelection only two weeks before the qualifying deadline.
Cramer, who won the seat in 1990, has held the seat as a Democrat for eighteen years. The Fifth District is made up of the North Alabama counties bordering Tennessee. This Tennessee Valley area is the last bastion of New Deal Yellow Dog white Democrats left in Alabama. This seat has never been in the Republican column. There will be a battle to keep it in the Democratic ranks. Huntsville is the hub of the district and most of the candidates hail from the Rocket City, as did Cramer.
The Democrats have fielded retired physician, Parker Griffith, and Huntsville physicist, David Maker. Dr. Parker Griffith is a retired cancer doctor who is also a first-term State Senator from Huntsville. Griffith is handsome, articulate and financially secure. This last attribute of having his own money, is the reason he is the hands on favorite to be the Democratic nominee and is probably the favorite to win all the marbles and go to Washington.
It is an impossible hurdle for a candidate to raise the money needed to finance a winning race on such short notice. Griffith can finance himself in the primary and general election. The only problem is Griffith is old by congressional standards. His is 66 years old, an age when most congressmen are retiring. Cramer is retiring at age 60, after eighteen years in Washington.  Griffith, if elected, will be given very little deference with his committee assignments. The optimum age for a freshman congressman is about 42. Griffith will be able to hold the seat for a few more years for the Democrats if successful.
The Republicans fielded a bevy of candidates for Cramer's open seat. None of them are marquee heavyweights. The late exit of Cramer caught the GOP off guard. There are six people vying for the Republican nomination. The favorite would appear to be Wayne Parker, who has run against Cramer twice and lost. This region's Democratic tradition has not allowed the GOP to cultivate a farm system or stable of legislative players.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist. who served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at

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