Alabamians take offense at Murray's tanker comments

WASHINGTON — Alabamians are none too happy with Sen. Patty Murray these days.

It seems comments by the Washington state Democrat questioning whether workers from Alabama could build a fleet of new Air Force aerial refueling tankers didn't sit too well with the politicians and some of the bloggers in the state. Some say she was making "untrue claims just to score political points." Others say she should apologize.

For her part, Murray isn't backing down, with aides pointing out she represents Washington state, and not Alabama. But she doesn't plan to stir things up even more.

The dustup involves the $35 billion contract the Air Force will award sometime next year to start replacing existing Eisenhower-era tankers. Boeing would build its version at its Everett, Wash., factory. A team involving the European-parent of Airbus and Northrop Grumman says it would assemble its tankers in a yet-to-be-built factory in Mobile, Ala.

Interviewed on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" a week ago, Murray criticized the Northrop-Airbus team for threatening to pull out of the competition if the Air Force didn't change its request for bids.

"We have to keep moving forward," Murray said. "And nobody should be whining and taking their ball and going home."

Murray went on to say: "I have stood in the line in Everett, Washington, where we have thousands of workers who go to work every day to build these planes. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they've stood on a line in Alabama and seen anyone building anything."


That didn't sit well with the governor of Alabama, the lieutenant governor, the state's senior senator and several of its congressmen.

"To declare that Alabama cannot build anything is simply ignorant," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "To publicly assert that Alabama is a risky choice to build the new Air Force tanker is unfounded."

Shelby and others pointed out that Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai all have manufacturing plants there and that the rocket that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon was built at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. They also said that Boeing considered Mobile when it was looking for a site for a second 787 assembly line and that Boeing has 3,000 employees in the state.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, said, "Surely Senator Murray was just misquoted because it would be absurd to say something so absolutely ridiculous."

Newspaper and television blogs in Alabama were filled with the Murray story.

Alex Glass, a Murray spokeswoman, said the senator wasn't going to add fuel to the flare-up.

"There is a tanker line in Washington state where workers are producing planes today," Glass said. "No tanker line exists in Alabama. Plain and simple."