- Cullman, Alabama

February 23, 2009

UPDATE: Shelby comments draw fire nationally

By Patrick McCreless

Comments Sen. Richard Shelby made in Cullman recently concerning a rumor that President Barack Obama is not a natural born United States citizen garnered national attention Monday.

During a community meeting at the All Steak Restaurant on Saturday, a local resident asked Shelby if there was any truth to the rumor, which appeared during the presidential campaign.

“Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate,” Shelby said. “You have to be born in America to be president.”

The comments were discussed at various lengths by news commentators across the country, including pundits on CNN, MSNBC and by writers for the Politico and the Huffington Post Web sites.

Shelby’s communications director, Jonathan Graffeo, issued a statement on the comments, stating The Cullman Times provided an incomplete account, and therefore a distortion, of the senator’s comments regarding Obama’s citizenship. The statement adds that at the meeting, Shelby laid out the Constitutional qualifications for the presidency and said that, while he hasn't personally seen the president's birth certificate, he is confident the matter has been thoroughly examined.

Dave Ozment, chairman of the Cullman County Republican Party, who attended the meeting, said he remembered some of Shelby’s comment on Obama’s citizenship.

“[Shelby] was not saying and I’m not saying he (Obama) is or isn’t [a U.S. citizen], he was just saying he hasn’t seen one (a birth certificate),” Ozment said.

Cullman Airport Manager Bob Burns, who was also at the meeting, recalled the question and answer as well.

“It sounded to me like he really didn’t want to go there,” Burns said about Shelby. “He said he hadn’t seen his birth certificate. He said something to the effect that it had been certified in Hawaii.”

Neither meeting attendees Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail nor former Cullman City Council member Wayne Walker could remember much of Shelby’s answer.

“I remember him saying you have to be born in the United States to be president,” Walker said. “I don’t remember if he commented on if he (Obama) was or was not born in the U.S. I remember him mentioning Hawaii.”

Nail said Shelby’s comment about Hawaii was what he mainly remembered.

“He said if he (Obama) had been born in Hawaii, then it would have been perfectly legal,” Nail said.

According to the Associated Press, Obama’s official birth certificate was presented last year during the presidential campaign.

The nonpartisan Web site examined the original document and said it does have a raised seal and the usual evidence of a genuine document. In addition, reproduced an announcement of Obama's birth, including his parents' address in Honolulu, that was published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Aug. 13, 1961.

The Supreme Court declined without comment last year to hear an emergency appeal from a man who claimed Obama was not qualified for the presidency because he is not a natural born citizen.

‰ Patrick McCreless can be reached by e-mail at or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.