Johnson, Sewell vie for 7th District seat

Published 9:49pm Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two candidates, both with family roots in the Black Belt, are vying for Alabama’s 7th Congressional District seat in Washington.

Incumbent Terri Sewell — a Selma native — will face Birmingham native and former Birmingham city attorney Tamara Harris Johnson in the June 3 Democratic Party primaries.

Johnson was born in Nashville, but considers Birmingham home. She graduated from Ramsay High School in Birmingham and earned a bachelor of arts in political science from Spelman College in Atlanta.

She later attended Howard School of Law, in Washington D.C. and earned a Juris Doctor.

Johnson held several different governmental legal positions, including Birmingham city attorney, before deciding to run for Congress.

Johnson described herself as “not a fluffy person.”

“I’m not looking to go to Congress to be politically correct in a conventional sense because I believe that the truth is always politically correct,” she said. “I’m not interested in photos ops. I just want people to feel the benefit of what I do and that’s why I got into law.”

Johnson was heavily critical of Sewell and denied any potential resentment from Sewell choosing not to appoint Johnson to a federal judgeship.

“If you feel that you have gotten the level of representation that you deserve, then keep her, but if you haven’t then I am a viable alternative,” Johnson said. “You have to be open, accountable and accessible to people and not just at election time.”

If elected, Johnson said her primary focus would be on jobs, diversifying representation in federal judge position and facilitating an amendment to the voting rights act. She also expressed concern about treatment of prisoners in Tutwiler Prison in Elmore County. The prison was cited by the Department of Justice for sexual abuse and harassment.

“If you’re in Congress, you can at least have a bully pulpit to bring about change,” Johnson said about Tutwiler. “Also, in going up and down the Black Belt, all I hear about is jobs … The only jobs you can get are to teach, preach and work at the Walmart.”

A recent report, presented to the Selma City Council, stated there were more than 300 available jobs within a 25-mile radius of Selma. Available jobs ranged from positions at Vaughan Regional Medical Center to sales jobs at retail stores.

Sewell is a Selma native and graduated from Selma High School as the first black valedictorian. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Princeton before earning a Master’s degree from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard.

During the summer, Sewell said she worked in Washington D.C. for current U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Sewell’s law career includes stints at a Wall Street law firm and as a public finance lawyer in Birmingham. When former U.S. Sen Artur Davis ran for governor in 2010, Sewell entered her name into the race for the 7th Congressional District.

“Never having been an elected official, I felt strongly that I could represent the district,” Sewell said. “I felt like it was my generation’s turn to lead.”

Sewell soundly secured a victory in the 2010 race and was re-elected in 2012 with no Democratic competition.

Sewell also said jobs are an important issue, but included education and health care on her list. She mentioned the opening of copper tubing plant Golden Dragon in Wilcox County as an example of bringing jobs to her district.

“Jobs is a primary focus because it is a measurable goal,” she said. “It is the dignity of a job that will help folks care about what their children eat.”

She said her biggest frustration in her time in Congress is partisan bickering and political gridlock.

“Everyday we should be promoting better economic opportunities,” she said. “We could be working on economic issues where we could find bi-partisan support and it’s mind boggling to me that we don’t do that.”

Sewell said her record should speak for itself when voters go to the polls on June 3.

“I have been effective and have a proven record of delivering for the 7th Congressional District — delivering resources, providing economic opportunities and access to those resources as well,” Sewell said. “I am honored everyday to represent my home district and it’s something I don’t take lightly.”

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