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Alabama delegation’s seniority in the U.S. Senate may be winding down

HUNTSVILLE,  Ala. - U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby is poised to become Alabama’s longest serving member of Congress, if he completes his new term, which is set to run until 2022.

Shelby was reelected in November.

He is 82-years-old and his office has indicated his current plan is not to seek another term for the seat he’s held since 1986. Shelby served eight years in the U.S. House before becoming a senator.

“He is truly an institution within the Congress of the United States,” said Jess Brown, WHNT News 19 political analyst.

While Shelby remains a constant presence for Alabama in the U.S. Senate, his colleague, 20-year U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions is poised to become the next U.S. Attorney General. President-elect Donald Trump is nominating Sessions for the job.

That could mean significant changes for Alabama’s senate delegation, especially if Shelby retires following the term that expires in 2022.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will soon select the interim senator, if Sessions is confirmed as attorney general. The governor is also responsible for calling a special election. So far, he’s indicated he’d prefer to wait until 2018 – a statewide office election year -- for the special election.

That would put Alabama on a busy Senate election calendar. If Bentley holds to that schedule, there would be a special election to fill Sessions seat for two years. Then, an election in 2020 for a full six-year term for Sessions’ current seat, and then an election in 2022 for Shelby’s seat.

It could also mean, depending on Shelby’s future plans, Alabama would have two relatively junior senators, after being near the top in seniority.

Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Banking committee, is among the most senior members of the Senate. Sessions has been Alabama’s junior senator for 20 years. They have served for a combined 50  years in the U.S. Senate .

That potential drop in seniority could mean fewer federal dollars flowing into the state, said Brown, WHNT News 19’s political analyst.

“Frankly seniority is a method for bringing home the bacon, and generally speaking freshman members do not bring home as much federal largesse or pork bacon, as senior members can do,” Brown said.