Let me preface this by saying that Artur Davis is everything Barack Hussein Obama has pretended to be. Davis was born in Montgomery, Alabama and raised by two women: His mother and grandmother. He excelled in school, earned a scholarship at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude. He later earned his J.D. at Harvard and returned to Alabama to practice law.
Davis is a black, centrist Democrat with principled, if often flawed views on policy matters. But he voted against Obama’s landmark healthcare reform act and stood by his vote despite withering criticism from within his own party, especially the Congressional Black Caucus. Davis was the only member of that Caucus to vote against the bill.
Davis was first elected to represent the 7th Congressional District of Alabama in 2002, defeating long-serving Earl Hilliard in a brutally contested primary. Hilliard’s chief campaign issue: That Davis wasn’t “black enough” to represent the 7th District (a heavily Democratic, majority black District in central Alabama). Davis and Hilliard were forced into a runoff, which Davis then won going away.
Davis’ defeat of Hilliard, his centrist positions and his votes on Capitol Hill strained relationships with Alabama and national black Democrat leaders. Those tensions boiled to the top of the 2010 Alabama Gubernatorial Democrat Primary. Davis’ campaign was a two-headed disaster. Poor leadership, combined with a determined effort among state Democrats to defeat him, transformed him from a 30-point favorite in the primary into a 24-point loser at the polls.
In a story that ran yesterday in the Birmingham News, Davis says he is closing the door on Alabama politics, but he has a parting shot for his former “allies:”
Davis, on what could be his last functional day as a member of Congress, did not give a 90-minute farewell interview, because that would imply he was leaving with the good-natured hope that others would fare well in his absence.
Instead, Davis, who went from national rising star to the losing end of a landslide back home, said hyper-partisanship in Washington and open hostility from fellow Democrats in Alabama have left him aggrieved and politically homeless.
Davis now says he ran into racism in a primary that is dominated by black voters. He said he lost black votes because black political leaders -- who disliked Davis' centrist record and go-it-alone style -- successfully convinced black voters that a black couldn't win, and this black in particular shouldn't win.
"The narrative caught hold in the black community that a guy who is not going to get white support is vainly trying to receive white votes and is overlooking the interests of blacks to get votes he'll never get," Davis said.
The state's black political organizations, which he beat in 2002 to win the congressional seat and has been adversarial with ever since, also out-maneuvered him. They used his vote against Obama's health care reform legislation as an example of how Davis neglected his black constituents.
Davis described the second "untold" story of his loss. After Obama won the White House, those organizations and the Alabama Democratic Party wanted a role in deciding whom to recommend for federal appointments around the state, the classic patronage spoil for the victor. Davis, however, came up with his own selection process, one that was not based inside the party. And then Davis' picks were more often heeded by the White House than the party's.
"For the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery, there were some in the Democratic Party who wanted that to be filled by someone who would lay hands off the Democratic Party," Davis said. "I was agnostic about who filled the positions but I wanted a process in place to produce candidates who were Democrats but who were merit-based, selected based on their legal ability."
Washington was increasingly less friendly for Davis, too. Political polarization around the country has both parties catering to their extremes, and moderates become pariahs, he said.
"The greatest disappointment these last two years has been that a country that was seemingly coming closer together is now further apart," Davis said.
Democrats in Alabama—and nationally—will be quick to cast Davis’ disillusionment as a case of sour grapes from a sore loser. But I think his warnings about the hyper-partisanship on the left side of the spectrum should have been heeded long ago.
Davis said that his vote against Obamacare was cast based on what he thought was best for the country, and that his process for selecting merit-based appointees to federal offices were meant to find the best qualified Democrats rather than the best connected political hacks.
This is a constitutional republic with a center-right electorate. In order to accomplish Reaganesque ideals of limited government and spending restraint—ideals that are supported by consistent majorities in public opinion surveys—Republicans will have to reach out to Democrats like Davis. These are matters of principle, and principled men like Davis are becoming increasingly rare.
Furthermore, while Barack Obama has proven to be an empty suit and an empty promise of Democrat moderation and leadership, Artur Davis exemplifies the kind of substance and principle that once got Democrats elected even in conservative-leaning states and Districts. You may not agree with them all of the time, but you’re confident that votes and positions are taken based on principle rather than partisanship.
For the record, Davis predicts that Ron Sparks—the Democrat nominee for Governor—will lose to Republican Robert Bentley, ensuring a third four-year term of GOP control of the office.