Rep. Spencer Bachus (R)
Alabama 6th District
Birmingham, once one of America’s booming industrial cities, was better known in the latter half of the last century as a bastion of white resistance to the civil-rights movement. It has more hopeful prospects in the 21st century. This is a new city by Southern standards. Before the Civil War, there was nothing here but a few creeks running below Red Mountain. But Red Mountain is almost pure iron ore, and by 1890, Birmingham had the South’s largest steel mills. In the early 20th century, as the statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, looked out over the smokestack-filled valley, Birmingham seemed the most progressive city in the South. But the worldwide overcapacity of steel and technological obsolescence at home sent the American steel industry into long-term decline starting in the 1950s. Meanwhile, Birmingham’s political leaders plotted to avoid desegregation, and the city’s violent reaction to civil rights made a vivid impression on the rest of the country, watching it unfold on the relatively new medium of television. Police Commissioner (and Democratic National Committeeman at the time) Bull Connor set dogs and fire hoses against peaceful demonstrators, and Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls in 1963. Those images haunted Birmingham for a generation.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In recent years, Birmingham has worked to improve race relations and has developed a new economic base. Health care is a major industry. The city has some of the largest and most advanced medical care centers in the South, and is especially renowned for its sports medicine facilities and specialists who tend to the ailments of famous athletes. Banking is also important. While Atlanta’s banks foundered and were acquired by outsiders, Birmingham became the largest Southern banking center outside Charlotte, N.C. But city leaders worry that the viability of the downtown area and white movement to newer suburbs have arguably caused an uptick in racial polarization. The city’s population has declined by 100,000 since 1960 and was 74% black in 2000. Whites have been moving out of Birmingham’s Jefferson County southeast to Shelby County, which grew 44% in the 1990s and 26% from 2000 to 2007—the fastest growth in the state. (However, the migration to Shelby has not been entirely white flight. Its African-American population increased significantly as well.) Jefferson County, once more Republican than most of Alabama, votes Democratic in close statewide elections, while Shelby County is one of the most Republican counties in the state. Metropolitan planners project an 85% population increase for Shelby County from 2005 to 2035, but only a 2% increase for Jefferson, whose development growth is limited by its hills.
The 6th Congressional District of Alabama, which once included all of Birmingham and most of Jefferson County, is now the suburban Birmingham-area district and strongly Republican. It includes parts of Jefferson County, such as prosperous Mountain Brook, and stretches southwest to Tuscaloosa and south along Interstate 65 halfway to Montgomery. In 2002, the Democratic line-drawers made it even more Republican by removing the last part of Birmingham and some black precincts in Tuscaloosa, and adding most of fast-growing St. Clair County north of Shelby County. Today, this is one of the most Republican districts in the nation. It voted 74% for George W. Bush in 2000—his second-best district outside of Texas—and four years later, gave Bush 78%. In 2008, John McCain won this district, 77%-22%.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Dec. 28, 1947, Birmingham .
Education: Auburn U., B.A. 1969, U. of AL, J.D. 1972.
Family: Married (Linda); 3 children.
Military career: Natl. Guard, 1969–71.
Elected office: AL Senate, 1983–84; AL House of Reps., 1984–87.
Professional Career: Owner, Lumber Co.; Practicing atty., 1972–92; AL Repub. Party chmn., 1991–92.
The congressman from the 6th District is Republican Spencer Bachus. A Birmingham native, he owned a sawmill company and for two decades was a trial lawyer. Bachus (BACK-us) was the first Republican elected to the state school board in more than 100 years. He won a seat in the state Legislature in 1982, and was also the campaign manager to Guy Hunt when Hunt was elected governor in 1986. After running unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1990, Bachus became Republican state chairman. When the 6th District was radically redrawn in 1992, he won a Republican runoff and defeated incumbent Ben Erdreich, a moderate Democrat.
|Spencer Bachus (R)||280,902||(98%)||($1,414,799)|
|Spencer Bachus (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (90%), 2000 (88%), 1998 (72%), 1996 (71%), 1994 (79%), 1992 (52%)
Bachus has a conservative voting record and has been an aggressive lawmaker. As the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, he has also been at the eye of the storm during the recent housing foreclosure crisis and the insurance and financial-markets failure. On what became a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, he was the only House Republican to participate in the initial September 2008 discussions, and he entered into a tentative agreement with Democrats. But the move angered House GOP leaders, who opposed the deal as it stood and wanted modifications to satisfy Republican conservatives. As a result, Bachus was replaced by then-Minority Whip Roy Blunt during the final negotiations on the bailout. Bachus called the result “very frustrating.” The other senior Republican in the negotiations was Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who was unalterably opposed to a deal. Having lost the confidence of Minority Leader John Boehner, who felt Bachus was too quick to compromise with the Democrats, he was at risk of being ousted from his leadership role on the committee, and speculation swirled about who would succeed him. But he showed skill as a survivor, which included promising to toe the party line in the future. He also rallied other influential Republicans to his side, including Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, who replaced Blunt as whip.
Bachus was in the thick of other major legislative battles. He angered Republicans in 2007 on a bill to ban predatory actions on mortgage lending when he cut a deal with committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., to reduce fraud and abuse. He also cooperated with Democrats on a bill to deter abuses by credit card companies.
In the 1990s, Bachus was an able investigator on the committee. He discovered that the Community Development Financial Institute, which President Clinton established in 1994, directed $11 million in loans to four banks with ties to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton without proper documentation. The two top CDFI officials resigned as a consequence. Bachus was an early critic of then-Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt after the Enron corporate accounting scandal broke. He also helped to enact changes in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which provided consumers additional access to their credit reports and cut back on identity theft. In 2006, he pushed enactment of the controversial ban on Internet gambling.
Bachus has also been something of a maverick on foreign policy. He has been an unlikely crusader for international debt relief for poor Third World nations, and he criticized the Bush administration’s dealings with the genocidal regime in Sudan. In 2007, he joined a bipartisan one-day fast to promote international debt relief.
Bachus beat out fellow Republican Richard Baker of Louisiana for the top spot on Financial Services after the 2006 election. He contended that he worked better with colleagues and interest groups than Baker. He once said, “Barney Frank and I represent very different political philosophies, but when we disagree, we do so amicably.” He also was helped by his more generous campaign contributions to other Republicans, more than $800,000. And he benefited from his early support for Boehner in Boehner’s contest with Blunt for majority leader in 2006; Baker had backed Blunt. Bachus won the top committee slot on a 22-7 vote of the leadership-dominated Republican Steering Committee. Baker quit the House a year later to run a financial-industry trade group.
Bachus has not had a Democratic challenger since 1998. He has voiced interest in a statewide race.