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Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama says he won’t seek a 7th term in 2022

A closeup of Richard Shelby at a microphone.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2005.
(Michael Probst / Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Senate’s fourth-most senior member and a force in Alabama and national politics for more than four decades, announced Monday that he will not seek a seventh term in office.

The 86-year-old Republican has spent more than 40 years in Washington, serving in the House and then the Senate. During his time in the Senate, he had the rare accomplishment of being chairman of four major committees and developed a reputation for using his clout and savvy to direct billions of dollars in projects back to Alabama.

Shelby is the fourth Senate Republican to announce his retirement, following Rob Portman of Ohio, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina.

“For everything, there is a season,” Shelby said in a statement announcing his decision. “I am grateful to the people of Alabama who have put their trust in me for more than forty years.”

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His departure will leave a power void — and set the stage for a chaotic race to fill the seat at a time when the Republican Party is deeply split on its future direction after former President Trump’s term in office. While Shelby has amassed a far right conservative voting record, the measured senator has not embraced the bombastic populist style of some Republicans.

“Serving in the U.S. Senate has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” Shelby said in his statement. “I have done my best to address challenges and find ways to improve the day-to-day lives of all Americans. I have also focused on the economic challenges of Alabamians.”

The senator stressed that he will finish the two years remaining in his term and said, “I have the vision and the energy to give it my all.”

Shelby was first elected as a conservative Democrat during the party’s waning days of power in the Deep South. In the House, he belonged to a caucus of Southern conservatives known as the boll weevils.

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Shelby was elected to the Senate in 1986 and switched to the GOP in 1994. He has spent the last two years as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, before Democrats gained control of the chamber.

“Few people have had a more consequential impact on our state than Sen. Richard Shelby,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said. “The people of Alabama owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Shelby, who served in the Senate longer than any Alabamian, was one of the last of the “old-style Southern politicians who saw as their main job as to steer as much of the federal budget to the state, instead of jumping on the hot-button issue of the day,” political consultant David Mowery said.

Shelby developed a friendship with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy said Alabama was losing a “strong champion.”

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“A fifth-generation Alabamian, Sen. Shelby is a true statesmen, and a man of his word. Our country is in need of more leaders like him,” Leahy said.


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