Six-term Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who has served as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee and its defense spending subcommittee, announced Monday he will not seek reelection in 2022. 

A long-time proponent for funding space and Navy programs in Alabama, Shelby’s exit would leave a vacancy for the top GOP appropriator role that could be filled by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) based on seniority.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

“For everything, there is a season,” Shelby, who is 86, said in a statement. “I am grateful to the people of Alabama who have put their trust in me for more than forty years. I have been fortunate to serve in the U.S. Senate longer than any other Alabamian.”

Shelby was first elected to Congress in 1978 as a conservative Democrat, then won a Senate seat in 1986 before switching to the Republican party in 1994.

He chaired both the appropriations committee and defense spending panel from 2018 until Democrats took control in the new Congress, and has been a strong advocate for billions of spending to fund programs at Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Navy shipbuilding at the Port of Mobile. 

“I have worked to enhance Alabama’s role in space exploration and the security of our nation,” Shelby said. “Although I plan to retire, I am not leaving today. I have two good years remaining to continue my work in Washington. I have the vision and the energy to give it my all.”

The Air Force recently announced Redstone Arsenal in Alabama is its preferred location for U.S. Space Command’s new headquarters (Defense Daily, Jan. 13). 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is 80, is also up for reelection 2022 but has not yet made any announcements regarding a decision on seeking another term.

Shelby is now the fourth Republican Senator to decide against seeking reelection in 2022, joining Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).