The legendary Speaker of the U.S. House, Sam Rayburn, coined a famous phrase he used often and imparted to young congressmen when they would arrive on Capitol Hill full of vim and vigor. He would sit down with them and invite them to have a bourbon and branch water with him. The old gentleman, who had spent nearly half a century in Congress, after hearing their ambitions of how they were going to change the world, would look them in the eye and say, “You know here in Congress there are 435 prima donnas and they all can’t be lead horses.” Then the Speaker in his Texas drawl would say, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”
Mr. Sam Rayburn ruled as Speaker during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt post-Depression and World War II era. The Democrats dominated Congress. Mr. Sam could count on the big city congressmen from Tammany Hall in New York and the Chicago machine politicians following the Democratic leadership because they had gotten there by going along with the Democratic bosses who controlled the wards that made up their urban districts. But the country was still rural at that time and Mr. Sam would have to invite a backsliding rural member to his Board of Education meeting in a private den in the basement of the Capitol and occasionally explain his adage again to them – in order to get along, you have to go along.
One of Mr. Sam Rayburn’s young pupils was a freshly minted congressman from Alabama’s Tennessee Valley. Bob Jones from Scottsboro was elected to Congress in 1946 when John Sparkman ascended to the U.S. Senate.
Speaker Rayburn saw a lot of promise in freshman congressman Bob Jones. The ole Texan invited Jones to visit his Board of Education meeting early in his first year. He calmly advised Jones to sit on the right side of the House chamber in what Mr. Sam called his pews. He admonished the young congressman to sit quietly for at least four years and not say a word or make a speech and to always vote with the Speaker. In other words, if you go along you will get along.
Bob Jones followed the sage advice of Speaker Rayburn and he got along very well. Congressman Bob Jones served close to 30 years in the Congress from Scottsboro and the Tennessee Valley. He and John Sparkman were instrumental in transforming the Tennessee Valley into Alabama’s most dynamic, progressive and prosperous region of the State. They spearheaded the location and development of Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. Bob Jones was one of Alabama’s greatest congressmen.
At the time of Bob Jones’ arrival in Congress in 1946, we had nine congressional seats. By the time he left in the 1960’s, we had dropped to eight. We now have seven. Folks, I hate to inform you of this, but population growth estimates reveal that we are going to lose a seat after this year’s count.
Our current seven-person delegation consists of six Republicans and one Democrat. This sole Democratic seat is reserved for an African American. The Justice Department and Courts will not allow you to abolish that seat. Reapportionment will dictate that you begin with that premise.
The growth and geographic location of the Mobile/Baldwin district cannot be altered, nor can the urban Tennessee Valley 5th District, nor the Jefferson/Shelby 6th District. They are unalterable and will reveal growth in population. Our senior and most powerful Congressman Robert Aderholt’s 4th District has normal growth and you do not want to disrupt his tenure path.
The old Bob Jones-Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area is where the real growth in the state is happening. The census numbers will reveal that this area of the state is booming economically and population wise. Therefore, you may see two seats spawned from this Huntsville-Madison, Limestone-Decatur-Morgan and Florence-Muscle Shoals-Tuscumbia area. The loser in the new reapportionment plan after the census will probably be the current 2nd district.
See you next week.
— Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Alabama legislature.