Photo via Project Vote Smart
So what about Bob? Specifically, what does his long-term future hold?
Robert Aderholt is an obscure member of Congress who has served Central Alabama for 20 years. He is very conservative but with a takin’ care of the people streak. Aderholt sponsored the House resolution supporting ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore in his unsuccessful effort to display the Ten Commandments in a local courthouse. He is solidly pro-life, Second Amendment, and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. But he has been ambivalent about free-trade and has been particularly hostile to steel imports. Parochially, he uses his senior perch on the House Appropriations Committee to funnel road related projects to his district.
After upsetting a better known Democrat to capture his Gadsden/Jasper/Tuscambia seat for his party in 1996 – a first since Reconstruction, then beating his predecessor’s son in 1998, Aderholt, 62, has literally cruised to re-election in a district that has only been made safer for Republicans over the years. Mitt Romney took 2/3 of the vote and Donald Trump actually topped that. And Aderholt is now a stone’s throw away from becoming chair of the House Appropriations Committee, though with New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen having just taken the gavel, that aspiration would have to wait until after the 2022 election cycle when House Republican Conference rules limit a chair to six years. But due to a confluence of circumstances, 2022 may be a crossroads year for Aderholt which means, a bevy of decisions will await.
When President Trump named Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Aderholt through his hat into the ring to replace him and emerged on the list of six finalists of Governor Robert Bentley. But Bentley ultimately appointed Attorney General Luther Strange. Aderholt took the rejection in stride but continues to be relegated to the House. Here’s his dilemma. Alabama is projected to lose a Congressional seat after the 2020 census and many have speculated that the 4th, located in the North Central part of the state would be easiest to carve up. Aderholt has a big fish to fry but the question is, would he want to. The term of the state’s senior Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, would also end in 2022 at age 88, it seems reasonable to expect he’d retire (though many thought the same of Shelby last year, and in 2010 for that matter). A Shelby retirement may cause Aderholt to reignite his Senate ambitions and pursue the seat. His dilemma – and this is a dilemma politicians only dream of, would be whether holding the gavel of the House Appropriations Committee would be more beneficial to Alabama – not to mention himself, than being a junior Senator. But that’s where redistricting complicates things and if that’s the case, there are many uncertainties.
Aderholt’s seat would seem like a prime target to be axed except for the fact that he could use the likelihood of his power as leverage to keep him. Alabama only has seven districts and two, the Mobile-based First and the Huntsville-anchored Fifth in the North, would be hard to divvy up geographically. The Birmingham based Seventh is the black majority district protected by the Voting Rights Act. So the only option would be to carve up either the Third or Sixth districts. This would necessitate new turf for Aderholt, but would still leave him heavily favored in a primary. If legislators were to listen and his district emerges relatively unscathed, he could stay in the House. If not, he’d have no choice but to seek the Senate as a way of prolonging his career. Then again, Shelby could confound everyone by running again and that could leave Aderholt without attractive options all together.
Of course, House Republicans, bogged down by an unpopular President Trump, could well lose their majority before 2022 which might make the ranking member position on Appropriations less meaningful. On the other side, with a plethora of ambitious and potentially better known Republicans (statewide officials, etc), Aderholt would not be guaranteed the Republican Senate nomination in any case.
Yes, 2022 is a long time a way which means that, decisions would not have to be made immediately. But politics is like a chess match in that it requires long-term thinking. And that is the case for officeholders and junkies alike.