Last week we closed with the fact that if Dr. Robert Bentley wins the governorship in November, Tuscaloosa will be the home county of both the Governor and our senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby. However, there is a glaring contrast between Shelby and Bentley. Bentley may be the worst fundraiser in memory, whereas Shelby is the king of fundraising. He has no peer.

When talk turns to politics in Alabama’s inner political circles eventually tales about Shelby’s prowess and love for raising campaign money are told. Everybody has a Shelby story. Every lobbyist in Washington and every businessman in Alabama will regale a Shelby story. Stories will be told about three politicians for generations to come in Alabama. Big Jim Folsom’s ribald uninhibited antics, George Wallace’s unbelievably miraculous ability to remember names, and Richard Shelby’s unabashed obsession with raising campaign money, will live forever.

One of my old friends, the late Mr. Walter Johnsey, told me a Shelby story that illustrates how prolific and devoted Shelby is to the art of political fundraising. Mind you that Walter was probably the most generous political contributor in the state. He was an easy mark for every political candidate in the state for over 30 years. He had no party preference. He gave to Republicans and Democrats. He gave to candidates running against each other in the same race. He gave to national, state and local candidates. In fact, he was inundated and besieged by local politicians running for city council and mayor of Birmingham on his deathbed in a Birmingham hospital. They came to Walter’s hospital room at night asking for money in his waning days.

Walter’s benevolence endeared him to Shelby. They were good friends going all the way back to Shelby’s days in the State Senate in the 1970’s when Walter practically owned the Alabama State Senate. One day Walter flew to Washington with some other Birmingham businessmen to see Senator Shelby about some project they were working on and needed Shelby’s assistance. After short formalities Shelby proceeded to ask all the men for a contribution to his campaign five years down the road. He then turned to Walter and said, “By the way Walter, you haven’t maxed out yet.” For those of you who do not know fundraising lingo, federal campaign laws have a limit on how much individuals, corporations, and PACs can contribute. Thus, someone who has given their limit has maxed out. Walter, who was an astute businessman, had about ten different corporations most likely for tax purposes. Walter said incredulously to Shelby, “My goodness Shelby, I know I have given you the maximum.” Shelby replied, “Walter, I checked the other day and you’ve started a new corporation and you can give another $500 out of that account.”

The Shelby stories abound. He is legendary. Many of the tales of Shelby’s tenacity are so bold that they border on audacious. The fact is that our senior senator is an anomaly. Most people, including politicians, detest having to ask for money. For example, Howell Heflin’s staff practically had to tie him to a chair to force him to spend the necessary two to three hours per day dialing for campaign dollars. However, Shelby likes to raise money. He relishes his fundraising time and it shows. Shelby has an amazing $15 million in his campaign war chest. If a serious candidate challenged Shelby he could defeat them with $3 million but guess what he did during his congressional break last year. He raised money.

Many people regard Shelby as our greatest U.S. Senator in Alabama history. Although he has reached a pinnacle of greatness, you have to remember that we had a tandem for close to three decades of Lister Hill and John Sparkman. They were a pretty good duo.

Many people have asked over the years why Huntsville is the center of technology and the home of NASA. Huntsville has grown from 18,000 people in 1950 to over 180,000 today. It also can claim one of the highest per capita incomes and highest educational levels in the southeast. It is as if the Silicon Valley of California and the Research Triangle of North Carolina were picked up and placed in the Tennessee Valley. The reason that Huntsville was transformed from a sleepy cotton town to a progressive polished internationally acclaimed city is Senator John Sparkman. Senator Shelby has built on the foundation created by Senator Sparkman and is instrumental in the continued growth and prosperity of Huntsville.

See you next week.