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|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st district
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 2003
|Preceded by||Jack Edwards|
|Succeeded by||Jo Bonner|
|Member of the Alabama Senate|
|Member of the Alabama House of Representatives|
September 11, 1932 |
Herbert Leon "Sonny" Callahan (born September 11, 1932) is a businessman and politician from Alabama. After being elected as a Democrat from Mobile to the state house and senate, he shifted to the Republican Party in 1984 at the request of Jack Edwards, the retiring Congressman from his district. Callahan was repeatedly elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1985 to 2003. Afterward he established his own lobbying firm and continued to be active in the Republican Party.
Early life and education
Callahan was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1932 to a large Irish Catholic family. He had eight brothers and sisters. After attending public schools, he attended classes at the University of Alabama, Mobile campus. He left college before graduation, serving in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1954.
Work and politics
Afterward Callahan returned to Mobile, where he started work in the trucking and warehousing businesses. He joined the Democratic Party and became active. He ran and was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1970; in 1978 he was elected to the Alabama Senate.
When he left the state House and the state Senate, he was succeeded each time by Ann Bedsole, a Mobile businesswoman, philanthropist, and a moderate Republican. In 1982, Callahan lost a Democrat bid to become lieutenant governor of the state.
During this period since the social changes of the 1960s, which resulted in African Americans regaining their ability to exercise their franchise in southern states, many white former Democrats in the South were shifting to the Republican Party. However, conservative Democrats continued to do well at the state level in the Mobile area. Nonetheless, retiring 10-term Republican congressman Jack Edwards was well aware that conservative Democrats in Mobile were more than willing to vote for Republicans at the national level. He asked Callahan to run for his seat in Alabama's 1st congressional district, based in Mobile, as a Republican.
Callahan, who had been very conservative even by Alabama Democratic standards of the time, accepted Edwards' request and became a Republican just before the 1984 elections. Callahan won by 4,000 votes, mostly on the strength of a 6,000-vote margin in heavily Republican Baldwin County. Callahan was also undoubtedly helped by the presence of the popular President Ronald Reagan atop the ticket that year for his second term; Reagan carried the 1st district with more than 60 percent of the vote. To date, 1984 is the only time the Democrats have come close to retaking the 1st congressional district since Edwards won it for the Republicans in 1964.
Callahan was unopposed for reelection in 1986, a year that was far more difficult for Republicans at the national level. He easily defeated underfunded Democratic challengers for the House seat in 1988, 1992, 1994 and 1996. He ran unopposed in 1990 and 1998, and faced only a Libertarian challenger in 2000.
When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, Callahan became the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs. Callahan had voted against numerous foreign aid bills before taking the chairmanship, and he remained skeptical of foreign aid. In 1998, Callahan became briefly notorious after it became known that he was speaking by phone with President Bill Clinton during one of the President's first sexual encounters with aide Monica Lewinsky. In 2001, Callahan became the chairman of the Energy and Water Development subcommittee.
Callahan retired from the House in 2003. His closest congressional aide, Jo Bonner, won the election to replace Callahan, receiving huge support from both Callahan and Edwards.
After leaving Congress, Callahan founded Sonny Callahan and Associates, a lobbying firm that he heads. He served as campaign chairman for businessman Tim James' unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for Governor of Alabama.
Steve Russo scandal
In the Summer of 2004, Callahan wrote a letter to State Lands Director James Hillman Griggs, complaining that Federal Coastal Zone Management pass-through grant money, which had been entrusted to the City of Orange Beach for beach development, was not going to the intended recipients. Griggs' office investigated and cancelled the grant and additional funding requested by Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo and City Attorney Larry Sutley. The United States Department of Justice initiated an investigation and indicted the two officials as well as developer Ken Wall. In 2006, Russo, Sutley, and Wall were convicted of corruption and obstruction of justice related to a scheme to "enrich the mayor in exchange for favorable treatment [of developers] on large construction projects in the city."
- "Monica Lewinsky", Starr Report
- Brendan Kirby, "Judge orders hearing in former Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo's bid to overturn conviction", Al.com, 2 February 2012
- United States Congress. "Sonny Callahan (id: C000052)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Sonny Callahan on the Issues
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st congressional district