Sewell, Chamberlain push jobs, economic development
MONTGOMERY | Selma inventor Don Chamberlain says he's running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in Tuesday's general election to keep his name in the public eye for a laudable goal, helping create jobs in the Black Belt.
They're on the same page with creating jobs.
Chamberlain, 66, a Republican from Selma, ran for Congress twice as a Democrat when he lived in south Alabama. In 2010, he was the 7th District Republican nominee who lost to Sewell, D-Birmingham, in the predominantly black congressional district.
Chamberlain said “probabilities are very low” that he'll defeat Sewell, but it's “not zero-point-zero.”
“I've been working on a farm bill for two years, and you get a lot of exposure and get a lot accomplished,” Chamberlain said in a recent interview.
The newly redrawn 7th Congress-ional District includes southern Tuscaloosa County and parts of Clarke, Jefferson and Montgomery counties. It includes all of Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Wilcox counties.
Sewell was an attorney in Birmingham in 2010 when she ran to succeed then-Democrat U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, who ran for governor instead of re-election. She is the first black female elected to Congress from Alabama.
Sewell said she believes President Barack Obama will be re-elected, and she's in a unique position to judge.
She went to Princeton with first lady Michelle Robinson Obama and attended Harvard Law School with Obama.
She is the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, which she said isn't a handicap because she gets along well with the Republican members.
“I think I have a very strong relationship with our delegation, and the proof was with the (2011) tornadoes when we all rolled up our sleeves and did not see red or blue in trying to bring over a half-billion dollars in resources and grants and loans after this crisis,” Sewell said Wednesday. “I'm pleased we've been able despite (national) bickering to bring resources to Tuscaloosa and to try to bring industries to the region.”
If re-elected, Sewell likely would remain a member of the political minority in the U.S. House of Representatives, which went Republican in 2010. National surveys indicate the House is likely to remain in the GOP column after the election.
Sewell said the 7th District, which includes Birmingham, the state's largest city, as well as some of the smallest and poorest rural counties, needs jobs.
“The No. 1 issue in the 7th District is job creation and retaining jobs, bringing better-paying jobs to the area,” Sewell said.
The district lost about 80,000 people since the 2000 Census, partly because young people left their rural hometowns and farms to seek jobs elsewhere.
The population changes resulted in the 7th District being enlarged during redistricting.
“The aging population concerns are the same as well as the aging infrastructure,” Sewell said.
On Wednesday, the congresswoman toured a paper mill and an apparel plant in Selma.
“I strive every day to address not only poverty and infrastructure, but also development opportunities in our area,” she said.
She recently toured several fish farms in West Alabama with a U.S. Department of Agriculture official.
“I'm very encouraged by our catfish farmers, and we want to make sure we level the playing field, that (imported) Vietnamese (catfish) aren't getting the upper hand,” she said.
The Black Belt also has potential for biofuel, bamboo products and tourism, she said.
In campaign contributions, Sewell has far out-raised Chamberlain.
Her campaign reported contributions of $1.1 million over the past two years, while Chamberlain reported $20,071, which includes $10,419 in loans.
Chamberlain attended Livingston University (now University of West Alabama) in 1966 to play football and run track, but was hurt in an accident and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968, where he saw combat during the Vietnam War.
After his military service, Chamberlain graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in marketing. He's been an inventor and has worked in various industries.
He ran for Congress in 1994 and 2002 as a Democrat when he lived in south Alabama and was the 7th District Republican nominee in 2010.
Chamberlain believes the Black Belt can be a prime vegetable producing area in tunnel houses, or greenhouses.
“We buy $1.5 million in fruits and vegetables from Mexico and we can raise them in the Black Belt,” he said. “My ambition is build a coalition in this district to build wealth.”
He said an obstacle is about one-third of the district lives below the poverty line or is underemployed.
“We're losing our best and brightest, who are moving out of the district,” he said.
He said the “shape the country is in” should mean that every incumbent should be challenged.