Rep. Artur Davis (D)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: Oct. 9, 1967, Montgomery .
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1990, J.D. 1993.
Family: Married (Tara Johnson).
Professional Career: Asst. U.S. atty., 1994-1998, Practicing atty., 1998-2002
The congressman from the 7th District is Artur Davis, first elected in 2002. Davis grew up in Montgomery. His parents divorced when he was a boy, and he was raised by his mother, a schoolteacher, and his grandmother. A gifted student, he was admitted to Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude, and went on to Harvard Law School. Davis interned at the Southern Poverty Law Center and clerked for federal Judge Myron Thompson, then served four years as an assistant U.S. attorney. Later, he practiced law in Birmingham. In 2000, he challenged 7th District incumbent Earl Hilliard in the Democratic primary. He criticized Hilliard’s controversial trip to Libya, which he took despite a State Department ban on travel to the then-terrorist state, and argued that Hilliard failed to aid his financially pressed district. Davis ran a vigorous campaign, but lost 58%-34%.
|Artur Davis (D)||228,518||(99%)||($820,467)|
|Artur Davis (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (75%), 2002 (92%)
In 2002, Davis came back for a rematch, raising $1.5 million. The contest split the local African-American political establishment, with some leaders disapproving of Davis’s challenge to another black officeholder. Campaign surrogates for Hilliard questioned whether Davis was “black enough” to represent the district. Referring to Davis’s background as a federal prosecutor, Hilliard claimed that, “the only thing [Davis] has done for black people is put them in jail.” Davis framed the debate as a generational battle between old-style black machine politics and a fresher, more effective approach. One key to Davis’s victory appeared to be strong financial backing from supporters of Israel. Hilliard was one of only 21 House members to vote against a resolution supporting Israel’s fight against terrorism, just weeks after Palestinian suicide bombers killed hundreds of Israelis. In the primary, Hilliard led Davis by only 46%-43% and was forced into a runoff. Several Congressional Black Caucus members, plus activist Al Sharpton, came in to campaign for Hilliard. Davis accused Hilliard of being divisive and called for “healing.” Outspending Hilliard by nearly $180,000, Davis won the runoff 56%-44%. He had no trouble winning in November, or since then.
In the House, Davis quickly reached out to other Black Caucus members, though some tensions remained with Hilliard’s allies. Davis has a moderate voting record for House Democrats, and has become a bigger player than Hilliard was in the Democratic caucus. He focused on rural issues and led successful fights to reverse funding cuts for minority land-grant colleges and the HOPE program to revitalize public housing. He helped to win approval of a new interstate highway through Black Belt counties. With Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, he sponsored a bill to increase the availability of umbilical-cord blood and bone marrow for patients in need of a transplant; President Bush signed their bill in 2006. Working with a bipartisan coalition, he called for trade protection to level the playing field with China. His particular concerns were the steel and catfish industries. Following the 2006 election, when Democrats took control of the chamber, he was rewarded with a seat on the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Davis represents a new generation of African-American political leadership and has told local audiences that blacks must move beyond a preoccupation with race. But he also criticized national Democrats—including John Kerry’s presidential campaign—for calling on black lawmakers only to rally black voters. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, appointed Davis a vice chair and gave him the role of mentoring Democratic candidates for the House. He also is active in the centrist New Democrats. Davis was an early backer of Barack Obama, whom he had met in law school at Harvard, and Davis became one of Obama’s closest confidants on Capitol Hill. During the general election, he warned Democrats not to engage in “anti-religious bigotry” in their criticism of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor. “There is a space in my party for conservative-leaning evangelicals,” he wrote during the campaign.
In February 2009, Davis launched his campaign for governor in 2010, when Republican Gov. Bob Riley is term-limited. In a statewide race, he hoped to be bolstered by his moderate voting record and style, not to mention Alabama’s 26% black population. In 2008, he worked closely with Democratic candidate Bobby Bright and was encouraged by his win in the conservative 2nd District. Davis says his polling shows that whites in Alabama are ready to vote for a black candidate who shares their social values. “Alabama today is looking more like Tennessee or North Carolina,” he says. The fact that Obama lost the state 60%-39% has not discouraged Davis since Obama made no effort in the state.