Former Democratic Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis will return to Alabama next week as the “star attraction” for a Republican fundraiser.
A lot has changed since Artur Davis was the center of attention at a political gathering in his native Alabama.
How much have things changed?
Well, when Davis made his last noteworthy appearance in Alabama he was a congressman, a Democrat, a candidate for governor.
And he was still welcomed at the White House.
Davis, who seconded the presidential nomination of Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, didn’t just slide over from Blue Dog Democrat to moderate Republican – he’s gone full-blown Tea Party. He spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention, one of a series of people of color on stage in front of an almost all white audience. He’s the new “See? We’re Not Racists!” face of True the Vote, an organization whose primary purpose appears to be unsubstantiated voter challenges that (just coincidentally, of course) disproportionately target people of color.
As I listened to Davis speak [to True the Vote] in Houston, I remembered a similar summit I attended in 2006, which was organized by “Patriot” and “Minutemen” groups. These tea party predecessors were transparent about not only their anti-immigrant stances, but their hostility towards Latinos in general. They used a lot of the same language as today’s tea party groups, like “taking back America” and “restoring America’s heritage.” And like True the Vote, they had a couple of black speakers at their summit who absolved the otherwise all-white movement of racism charges.
Most of those Patriot and Minutemen groups dissolved, just before the rise of Obama. But in 2010, tea party groups that look and sound just like them emerged, better organized and better funded. Many are just as far to the right as their predecessors, but on race specifically they use softer language. They proclaim that they just want to help improve government, and are offended by charges that they threaten black and Latino people. Their politics are not racist, they say, and if you don’t believe them, just ask Artur Davis.
What happened to the man who, just two short years ago, ran for governor as a progressive Democrat, championing a new constitutional convention truly representative of the people of Alabama? This was a man who fought to win his Congressional seat against the entrenched power structure in the Alabama Democratic Party, but he didn’t shy away from being a Democrat. (He did choose to vote against the Affordable Care Act, but - while I disagree with his vote – I continue to believe that it was a strategic move, sanctioned by the White House, to help him in the general election.)
Then he lost. Not just lost – he was pummeled in the primary, never getting the chance to make his case to the state as a whole. He left Alabama behind to move to Virginia. He said he was done with politics. Alabama ended up with accidental Gov. Dr. Dr. Robert Bentley.
“If you are asking if I will name individuals whose organizations regularly practice such tactics, why would I elevate unknowns to my level by identifying them and giving them a national forum? I understand that you are doing your job as a journalist but I don’t owe your readers any clarification.”
And right there in that quote is, in my opinion, the key to Artur’s party switch: he’s pissed that Alabama Democrats didn’t show him the adulation to which he believes he’s entitled. National Republicans, ever on the quest to prove their diversity, are piling on the praise that he didn’t get at home. He’s on TV! He’s invited to speak! He’s a respected pundit! He’s fawned over like a new religious convert.
I believed Artur Davis when he said he supported a new constitution that would help Alabama move forward into a better future. I believed him when he said he supported Barack Obama for president. I was disappointed when he left Alabama, letting his hurt feelings trump his principles.
Of course, that was back when I believed he had some principles. Looks like I was wrong.