Alabamians take their seats in Congress
The history-making political and demographic makeup of Alabama's congressional delegation was on full display Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. House when six Republicans and one Democrat -- two of them women -- took the oath of office for the 112th Congress.
Never has the state been represented by so many women, and it's been 142 years since there were so few Democrats in the group.
Alabama's three fresh men members celebrated their arrival in Washington with modest receptions, surrounded by family and friends who toured their new, largely undecorated offices and marveled at their views of Capitol Hill.
As for which of the three has the shortest walk to the House floor, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, wins with a first-floor office near the front door of the Longworth building, directly across from the Capitol.
Wednesday was largely ceremonial. Members cast their first vote by standing and announcing their preference for House speaker, an event with a preordained outcome because the November elections shifted the majority from Democrat to Republican. Alabama's six Republicans v o t e d f o r R e p . John Boehner, R-Ohio. Sewell voted for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Boehner was elected speaker.
Sewell sat on the Democratic side of the chamber with five children -- her nieces and godchildren. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, stood in the aisle on the opposite side, joined briefly by her daughter. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, had a seat on the second row and took advantage of new House rules that allow members to tap away on smartphones on the floor.
Brooks' day began at 7 a.m. with interviews for news outlets back home and continued with a whirlwind of greeting visitors, taking the oath and casting his first votes. He said he was especially eager to vote on cutting office budgets by 5 percent, one of the first orders of business for the new GOP majority.
It was Day One, and the lobbying already had begun. When representatives of a Washington-based industry trade group introduced themselves to Brooks in his office, he told them, "I think you'll find that I'm very business friendly."
The Huntsville lawyer and Madison County commissioner replaces oneterm Congressman Parker Griffith.
Sewell's delegation of friends and family was so large -- 167 of them -- that she had to move her reception to the Library of Congress across the street.
The bond lawyer who lived in New York before moving back to Birmingham has roots in Selma, where her mother was the first black woman on the City Council and her father was a well-known coach.
Now she is the first black woman to represent Alabama in Congress, and she participated in a morning ceremony with fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
She beamed as she introduced her nieces and godchildren to other members of Congress on the floor, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an Alabama native and champion of the Civil Rights movement.
"I feel like it was a full circle moment for me. People marched so I could be the first African American woman to represent the state of Alabama and to have one of those marchers call me colleague -- it was overwhelming," Sewell said.
Sewell replaces Artur Davis, who did not run for reelection.
Roby, also a lawyer, was on the Montgomery City Council when she beat Bobby Bright, the former mayor who was in Congress for one term. The race was watched nationally and became one of many in which a young conservative Republican upstart ousted a Democratic incumbent.
Among her relatives in Washington on Wednesday was her father, U.S. Circuit Judge Joel Dubina, chief judge for the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Roby landed two committee assignments key to her southeastern Alabama district: armed services and agriculture.
"It is exciting to have my family and friends around me today to show their support, but we're really just ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work," Roby said.
The dean of Alabama's House delegation, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, tapped into his campaign account to throw a party for the trio of freshmen Wednesday evening.
Hundreds from Alabama packed into a committee room, where Bachus introduced them as "our three wonderful new members."
Earlier in the day, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, was making the rounds to greet the three freshmen.
His advice to them? "To never forget who put you here and always remember those who put you here can send you back home," Bonner said as he got off an elevator.