Rep. Jo Bonner (R)
Alabama 1st District
Mobile, the port where the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico, was a strategic point on the American frontier. Spanish after the Revolutionary War, it was wrested away by threats of war from Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. During the Civil War, it was one of the major Confederate ports. In 1864, Admiral David Farragut, while steaming into the harbor lashed to his mast, cried, ‘‘Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.’’ Today, Mobile is full of graceful signs of its exotic past. Behind the docks and rail lines are downtown buildings and old houses with Spanish motifs, French accents, or tropical Art Deco lines. Further inland are neighborhoods with spacious houses, often with double porches, overhung by huge live oaks graced with Spanish moss. Mobile is a Gulf Coast version of Charleston or a smaller, more comfortable New Orleans, with a taste for shellfish and spicy food and an even older Mardi Gras, which the locals have been celebrating since 1703. As befits a frontier city with a martial past, Mobile is bristling with arms: One of the city’s proudest possessions is the battleship USS Alabama, moored at the head of Mobile Bay, with its guns aimed out toward the Gulf. Mobile’s economy was based originally on docks and shipyards, factories and terminals, but with a determination to impose touches of beauty on its hot, flat landscape. Its economy has been thriving at the shipyards, chemical plants, and a cruise ship terminal. The capital improvements include Mobile’s State Docks, which serves Alabama’s booming Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai auto factories. ThyssenKrupp has a new $4.2 billion steel-processing plant in Calvert to supply the auto companies, and Mobile’s $300 million container terminal opened in 2008, and immediately more than doubled annual shipments.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Mobile and its beaches with Category 4 intensity. On Dauphin Island, the 15-mile spit of land south of Mobile Bay, 300 homes were swept away, and a one-mile gash created a new island. Elsewhere in Mobile and Baldwin counties, Katrina caused major damage to pecan, peanut, and cotton crops. Although the damage received far less national attention than did the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi, the government authorized $970 million of post-Katrina assistance to Alabama, though it took until 2008 for many of the 2,000 displaced residents to get repairs or new homes.
Mobile is the focus of Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, which extends north along the usually lazy Tombigbee and Alabama rivers, with their old forts and mansions. Monroeville was the home of great writers— Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump; Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood; and his childhood playmate, Harper Lee, whose classic To Kill a Mockingbird is set here. In 2007, President Bush awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying her book “has influenced the character of our country for the better.” There are also surviving backcountry settlements of blacks and Cajans (who may or may not be descended from Louisiana Cajuns) and Creek Indians. Once cotton fields, this is now timberland, a major contributor to Alabama’s economy, though the housing downturn suspended many operations. East of Mobile Bay, along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, are condominium communities in Baldwin County, one of the two fastest-growing counties in Alabama. The area hosts the annual National Shrimp Festival, and its glorious Gulf beaches are one of the South’s best-kept secrets. For years, this southern seaboard of the Confederacy has been one of the most hawkish parts of America, and today it is solidly Republican in national elections. But in September 2005, in elections held after Katrina, Mobile elected its first African-American mayor, Sam Jones, a liberal Democrat who served with John McCain during the Vietnam War.
Rep. Jo Bonner (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: Nov. 19, 1959, Selma .
Education: U. of AL, B.A. 1982, U. of AL, J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Janee).
Professional Career: Sr. aide, U.S. Rep. Sonny Callahan, 1984-2002.
The congressman from the 1st District is Jo Bonner, a Republican elected in 2002. Bonner was born in Selma and is just a little too young to remember when it was the focus of the civil-rights movement. He grew up in Camden, where his father, who died when Jo was 13, was a probate judge. In college, Bonner majored in journalism and graduated in 1982. Two years later, he started working as a campaign press secretary for Rep. Sonny Callahan, a gregarious nine-term Republican who rose to become an Appropriations subcommittee chairman, one of the so-called “cardinals” of the House. In 1989, Bonner was promoted to chief of staff and later moved his family back to Mobile and continued his staff work for Callahan there. That background left Bonner well positioned when Callahan announced his retirement three months before the 2002 primary. Bonner’s strongest opponent in the seven-candidate Republican primary had a similar background: Tom Young had been the chief of staff to Republican Sen. Richard Shelby for 12 years. Like Bonner, Young had his former boss’s endorsement and showed a knack for campaign fundraising. The two raised more than $2 million between them, including lots of money from Washington lobbyists. Young contrasted his experience on intelligence and defense policy with Bonner’s focus on more mundane constituent-service work. Bonner argued that Young had more connections in Washington than in southern Alabama; he jibed that Young should have been welcomed at a luncheon for “new Mobilians.” Young outspent Bonner by $300,000 and was helped by ads from the anti-tax group Club for Growth, but Bonner led the primary 40%-20%. In the runoff, Bonner was endorsed by the other Republicans who ran. He won 62%-38%. In a district held by Republicans since 1964, when Barry Goldwater swept Alabama, Bonner easily won in November, and has been re-elected easily ever since.
|Jo Bonner (R)||210,652||(98%)||($736,705)|
|Jo Bonner (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (68%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (60%)
In the House, Bonner has a solidly conservative voting record. After Hurricane Katrina, he reassessed his support for repeal of the estate and gift taxes, worried about the bill for reconstruction in hard-hit Gulf states like his own. He secured $7.5 million for improved shelter space at the fairgrounds in Baldwin County. In 2006, he voted against renewal of the Voting Rights Act, saying that it was time to give the South “an opportunity to come out from under the burden of crawling to the U.S. Justice Department, on bended knee, and asking for its blessing to continue on the march for equality.”
From the moment he arrived in Congress, he lobbied GOP leaders to get Callahan’s old seat on the Appropriations Committee, which controls the government purse strings. He finally succeeded in February 2008, when Republicans gave him the seat that had belonged to Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who was moving up to the Senate to replace the retiring Republican Trent Lott. Although regional identity helped Bonner, he also pledged to Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio that he would limit spending earmarks, the special provisions tucked into appropriations bills that had tarred the GOP’s reputation for thriftiness. Boehner said that with Bonner’s appointment, “the old model is broken.” Bonner said, “Since we helped create this mess, it should be up to us—House Republicans—to help fix the problem.” Bonner also served on the four-member Ethics Committee panel that reviewed the personal finances of Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. In 2009, he became the ranking Republican on the Ethics Committee.
In a rematch against Belk in 2004, Bonner won, 63%-37%. Two years later, he defeated former Mobile County Treasurer Vivian Beckerle 68%-32%. Bonner seems likely to have a lengthy tenure in this safe Republican seat. In February 2009, he decided against a run for governor in 2010.