Small-town girl continues climb up political ladder
SELMA — Everything seems to be falling into place for Terri Sewell, a small town girl who never dreamed she’d climb the political ladder of success as fast as she has.
At the moment, the former debate team star at Selma High School and successful bond lawyer in Birmingham is one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars.
By virtue of her membership in the U.S. House of Representatives where she has been praised by party leaders, Sewell has become one of America’s most important politicians.
Before that happened, she sailed through academic programs at Princeton and Harvard — two of America’s most prestigious universities — as well as Oxford University in England.
Sewell currently is into her second term as Alabama’s 7th Congressional District representative and has been making the rounds, meeting with supporters in an area that takes more than six hours to get from one end to the other.
Getting where she is today wasn’t planned but seems to be part of a growing legacy that at least one Alabamian believes could just be forming on the national scene.
“I like to think of her as another Barbara Jordan,” said Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, referring to the late Texas politician who was one of the most prominent black politicians in her state and in America.
Jordan was a Texas lawyer who breached color and gender barriers as she ascended to great political heights in the Lone Star state. Sewell is a lawyer who’s done much the same thing in Alabama.
Once their professional and political similarities are examined, as McPhillips has done, it makes sense.
Luck often is an ingredient in success stories, especially when it comes to politics. No one has to tell Sewell that because she’s a student of political history and has written about it.
She knows that if Artur Davis hadn’t decided to run for governor in 2010 and give up his 7th District Congressional seat, chances are he’d probably still be there today and she’d most likely still be a partner in a Birmingham law firm.
What happens in the future is open to conjecture of course. For the moment, Sewell is focusing on issues of today — including immigration and gun control on the national level as well as the black farmer lawsuit and decaying infrastructures on the local front.
During an appearance at the Selma City Hall last week, Sewell could look into the audience and see her mother beaming proudly as she was introduced.
Nancy Sewell, formerly the librarian at Selma High School, also was elected to the Selma City Council several years ago and her seat was right behind where her daughter spoke.
Terri Sewell had a good political teacher in her mother, not to mention a great cook waiting for her on weekends when she’d fly back to Alabama from Washington.
“My mom makes the most amazing smothered pork chops with lots of gravy along with candied yams and collards,” said Sewell, whose father, former basketball coach A.A. Sewell, has been ailing for several years.
During her discussion of issues of importance, Sewell mentioned that, while she was in Afghanistan for a fact-finding trip last year, her mother sent her an email with news of vital local importance.
“She said the people of Uniontown were unable to flush their toilets because the water pump had worn out and the pressure was so low they just couldn’t flush,” Sewell told the big crowd.
It turned out to be a good illustration of the basic infrastructure problems that continue to plague the people of Alabama’s Black Belt region.
A leader of that congressional trip was former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who soon had a junior congresswoman telling her about tiny Uniontown, located in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt.
Terri told Nancy that Uniontown didn’t have the money to borrow funds for a new water pump. So, she asked if there a way to get a grant instead, one that wouldn’t have to be repaid.
The result was typical Terri Sewell, who turned 48 on Jan. 1. In six weeks, the federal government had approved a $3.5 million grant for a new water pump in Uniontown.
McPhillips, who helped pave the way for Terri to get into Princeton and is well aware of her accomplishments in only her second term in Congress, believes even brighter days may be ahead for her.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, one day, she’s on her party’s short list for vice president,” he said.
“I also wouldn’t be surprised if she is on the short list one day as a vice presidential candidate.”