Sewell concentrates on serving constituents in first year in Congress
WASHINGTON -- As someone who appreciates the value of compromise, Terri Sewell has found lots of reasons to feel frustrated during her first year in Congress.
"The political gridlock has definitely been the most disappointing, no doubt about it," said Sewell, the only Democrat in Alabama's congressional delegation and the first black woman elected to Congress from the state.
As a first-year representative in the minority party, Sewell has almost no clout. Amid all the partisan bickering in Congress -- over federal spending, environmental regulations, judicial nominations and other issues -- she has focused largely on making sure constituents in the mostly black 7th Congressional District aren't forgotten.
"She's the perfect person to represent her district," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. "She has a sophistication and a worldliness about her because she has a lot of experience outside of Alabama. But she is fiercely Alabama-focused."
Sewell handily won the seat last year after her pre-
decessor, Democrat Artur Davis, unsuccessfully ran for governor. Early last year, she was elected president of the small Democratic freshman class.
Before Congress, Sewell, a native of Selma, was a public finance attorney who practiced in Birmingham and in Manhattan earlier in her career.
"I understand the importance of compromise and the art of compromise," she said.
Sewell meets monthly with her Alabama colleagues to talk about issues important to the state. She said the tornadoes that devastated the state in April helped pull the delegation's members closer together.
"It forced all of us to not see red or blue, but to see Alabamians in need," she recalled. "It was a galvanizing event that I think offers hope for even the national political landscape -- that we in Alabama put partisanship aside in order to achieve the goals of helping with disaster assistance, because we had to."
Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, recalled that Sewell was on the scene in Alabama after the tornadoes, an image he said resonated with her constituents.