By Glynn Wilson –
Birmingham attorney Doug Jones kicked off the new year by making history on Wednesday, being sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as the first Democrat in the United States Senate from Alabama in a quarter century. He reclaimed the seat long held by his mentor, Howell Heflin, narrowing the Republican majority down to 51-49 as the mid-term elections of 2018 loom large on the American political horizon.
“I am humbled and honored to stand here today, chosen by the people of Alabama to represent our state in this historic institution,” Senator Doug Jones in a statement right after the swearing in ceremony. “I will work every day to make sure I hear their voices and that their voices are heard in Washington. It is time to come together and rebuild the trust we need to find common ground and expand opportunity for all.”
In an irony that could be another in a long line of events that make it look like the arc of history is bending toward justice as the second decade of the 21st century winds down, Jones was not the only new Senator to take the oath of office on the Senate floor after the body gaveled in the new year’s session. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith was also sworn in. She was appointed to replace Democrat Al Franken, battered by sexual allegations as was Jones’ opponent, Roy Moore.
In a break with Senate tradition, former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, escorted Jones into the Senate for the swearing-in ceremony rather than Tuscaloosa Senator Richard Shelby, who switched to the Republican Party on November 9, 1994 in the midterm elections after being elected as a Democrat in 1992. Shelby switched parties one day after the so-called “Republican Revolution” when they took control of both houses of Congress. Shelby’s vote gave the Republicans a 53–47 majority in the Senate.
Jones said during the campaign that he was a long-time friend of Shelby and that he would be able to work effectively with the senior Senator even though he is a conservative Republican.
Jones beat defiant former judge Roy Moore in December, who was on the defensive for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct for relationships with teen-aged girls when he was an assistant district attorney and in his 30s. Although Moore never conceded defeat, he never filed the necessary paperwork to try to force a recount. Many political insiders in Alabama expect Moore to try making another political comeback by running for governor or attorney general in the 2018 elections.
Jones, who has called it his “life-long dream” to serve in the Senate after he served as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for Heflin in the 1980s, wore a pair of Heflin’s cufflinks during the swearing in.
“I want to thank each of you for helping me fulfill a lifelong dream of serving in the United States Senate that started out with my mentor, Howell Heflin,” Jones said after he was declared the winner in Birmingham on election night, December 12.
On the afternoon of the swearing in, he sent this statement out to supporters.
I just got off the floor of the U.S. Senate after being sworn in.
I was honored to be escorted by Vice President Joe Biden and to meet my colleagues from both sides of the aisle.
I wanted to thank you first because none of this would have been possible without you. It was your encouragement, phone calls, donations, door knocking, and endless energy that got us here. Thank you.
They said a Democrat couldn’t win in Alabama. They said our message of unity wouldn’t work in today’s political climate. Together, we proved them wrong.
We now have the incredible opportunity to work for the people of Alabama every day. I’m ready to get to work.
Senator Doug Jones
After the official swearing in, Jones was to participate in a historic swearing-in re-enactment in the Old Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol.
It is another irony that Jones takes back the seat long held by Jeff Sessions, now President Donald Trump’s attorney general, who took the seat after Heflin retired even though Heflin cast the deciding vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee to keep Sessions off the federal bench.
“This is not an easy vote for me, and it will be one that many will disagree with, particularly in my home state,” Heflin said. “But as long as I have reasonable doubts, my conscience is not clear and I must vote no.”
The Washington Post reported that Heflin “became a pariah in Alabama,” although that’s not exactly the way I remember it. My recollection is half the people thought of him as a hero for voting on the right side of history.
It is true that an editorial in the Mobile Press-Register newspaper called him “the Benedict Arnold of Alabama.” But then that Newhouse paper was considered one of the worst newspapers in publishing history.
Heflin has “toed the party line and established himself as simply another political hack who can be swayed by the liberal Eastern Establishment,” the paper wrote on it’s editorial page.
In his retirement speech in 1995, when he announced he would not seek another term in 1996, Heflin said something that is still prescient today: “Elected officials, media personalities, elements of political parties and other organizations strive to pit one group of Americans against another. We must set a new course in this Congress and across the land — a course of moderation, tolerance, responsibility and compassion.”
In one of his most important votes as a Senator, Heflin cast the deciding vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee against radical right-wing conservative Robert Bork in 1987 and denied him confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Heflin died in 2005 after a massive heart attack.
Jones Makes History with Staff Hires
In the days before his swearing in, Jones made history by being the first Democrat in the Senate to hire an African American Chief of Staff, Dana Gresham, putting to rest a chorus of criticism by Democrats in some Facebook groups worried that he might hire an all white male staff.
“Today I’m proud to announce that we have recruited four outstanding individuals to join our team,” Senator-elect Doug Jones said in a statement. “Each of them possess long and impressive careers in public service, and as Alabama natives, share my commitment to the people of our state.”
Gresham is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, a product of the Birmingham public school system, graduating from A. H. Parker High School in 1989. He also earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. Jones’ said he is a seasoned manager and federal policy and legislative affairs expert with more than 22 years of experience in the Legislative and Executive Branches of the U.S. Government.
For the eight years of the Obama administration, Gresham led the Legislative Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Transportation where he served as the Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs. He was nominated for this position by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the spring of 2009.
Gresham has more than 14 years of Capitol Hill experience. For 11 years he served in senior staff positions within the Alabama Congressional Delegation, for six years as Chief of Staff to Rep. Artur Davis and for five years as Legislative Assistant and then Legislative Director for Representative Bud Cramer. He began his career on Capitol Hill as a Staff Assistant for Representative Eva Clayton from North Carolina.
Immediately prior to joining Senator-elect Doug Jones’s staff, Mr. Gresham worked in the private sector as a consultant for Federal City Council.
Jones also hired Mark Libell as Legislative Director. He is a native of Florence, Alabama, and a graduate of Maryville College who received his JD from the University of Alabama School of Law and a Tax LLM from Georgetown University Law Center.
Libell previously served as Legislative Director to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. Since Senator Rockefeller’s retirement in 2014, Mark has been Assistant Congressional Liaison at the Federal Reserve Board. He has also worked for Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Representatives Bart Gordon of Tennessee and Linda Sanchez of California.
Jones hired Ann Berry as his transition advisor is, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who graduated from J.H. Phillips High School and the University of North Alabama. Ann moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the late Senator Howell Heflin in 1979. Since the retirement of Senator Heflin, Ann has worked for many Senators including Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Edwards, Tom Carper and as Deputy Chief of Staff to Senator Patrick Leahy. Ann has a wealth of Capitol Hill experience and she and the Senator-elect worked together on the Heflin team many years ago.
Jones hired Katie Campbell as his Deputy Legislative Director. She is a native of Montevallo, Alabama. She graduated from the University of Alabama and earned a Masters of Public Policy from Georgetown University.
Katie has extensive legislative experience having worked for members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, most recently handling health policy for Senator Joe Donnelly and serving as the policy director for the Blue Dog Coalition.
© 2018, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.