Senator fields questions from residents

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Questions about the new Medicare Prescription Plan and how to get rid of lobbyists highlighted a town hall meeting Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama.

Shelby spoke at a luncheon at the St. James Hotel, sponsored by the Selma Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

The key to the Medicare plan is “to save senior citizens money, but they have to be able to understand it,” Shelby said. He said that educating the public on the plan has been a tough sell.

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Shelby, who has spent 28 years as an elected representative, said he’s held 1,300 town hall meetings in Alabama during that time. He takes those meetings as an opportunity to listen to the people, he said.

“I know the whole Black Belt is challenged – socially and economically,” he said. “I try to address those concerns as much as I can.”

Shelby pointed to the $100 million obtained in 2005 through the federal government to “jump start” the I-85 extension proposal. “I’ve suggested a toll road, which could be built much faster,” he said, adding he didn’t know what state officials would do. “That road is needed for east-west access of traffic.”

He encouraged the packed room to push the issue through. “We’ve got a good start – a heck of a good start,” he said.

The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court was another issue addressed by Shelby. He said he’s met with Alito and believes he will be confirmed. “And hopefully next week,” he said, when the Senate goes back into session.

On the issue of Iraq, Shelby said he supported the war and continues to support the soldiers.

“We should always support our troops,” he said. “We have made some mistakes … but the worse thing we can do is cut and run … we would be making a horrible mistake.”

He added that the successes in Iraq are “not without a struggle. Not without some lives lost.”

Bob Edwards asked the senator “how can we get rid of the lobbyists in Montgomery and Washington?”

Shelby answered that it’s a First Amendment issue for people to practice their right to freedom of speech.

“I don’t know if you can get rid of the lobbyists, but we can regulate what lobbyists do,” he said.

“There are good lobbyists, then there are crooked ones. You’ll always have cycles of that,” he said. “You need to root them out if they break the law.”

Shelby added, however, that “you can’t legislate ethics. You can’t legislate morals.”

The senator also discussed the need for immigration reform, displaying a graphic that shows there are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

“Most of them come for a better life,” he said. “But, our immigration system is broken.”

Shelby pointed out that the overwhelming majority of “those in this room” are descendants of immigrants. “But they were here legally … where they are going to break the law, we shouldn’t reward them.”