More and more it looks like Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) could become a historic figure, both in Alabama and the Deep South.
Davis shows extraordinary promise for leading Alabama toward a brighter future, even though recent election results show huge chunks of our electorate cling doggedly to our unfortunate past.
In the aftermath of Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, it's hard not to think of Davis and wonder what he could do for our troubled state. Davis was an early and ardent supporter of Obama's, and the two men have much in common.
That makes me ask: Could Artur Davis be the one to cause Alabama to change it's state motto from "Dear God, We Don't Want to Go There" to "Yes, We Can?"
I've been thinking about trying to put the Obama-Davis parallels into words for Legal Schnauzer. But someone beat me to it, and I don't think I could top the job this writer has done.
His name is Jeremy Sherer, and he is an attorney with the Birmingham firm of Whatley Drake & Kallas. Sherer was a district policy advisor for Davis in 2004-05, so at first, he might not appear to be the most objective commentator. But he has written an op-ed piece for the Mobile Press-Register, "Artur Davis: Is His Turn Coming?" that is thoughtful, balanced, and filled with historical insight.
More importantly, it offers signs of hope for Alabama's future, and I urge Legal Schnauzer readers to check it out.
From scanning his bio at the Whatley Drake & Kallas Web site, Sherer appears to be quite a young fellow. But he writes with uncommon perceptiveness, and he focuses on the possibility that Davis might run for governor in 2010:
Davis will face a question similar to one that was asked repeatedly about Barack Obama, and that is: Is Alabama capable of putting racial prejudice firmly in its past and electing a person of color to be the chief executive of our state? Keep in mind that only one black Alabamian has been elected to statewide office: Oscar Adams, who was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court by Gov. Fob James and later elected twice.
If Davis were to run for governor and win, he would join the ranks of Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, elected in 2006, and David Paterson of New York, who was elevated to the post after Eliot Spitzer resigned. Virginia is the only Southern state to have elected a black governor — Douglas Wilder in 1990.
Sherer draws parallels between Obama and Davis:
Congressman Davis' and President-elect Obama's personal stories are very similar. Both were raised in single-parent families headed by their mothers, with close support from grandparents. Both men attended Harvard Law School, where they first met. And both men chose a life of public service over high-dollar careers in the corporate arena.
Though Davis arrived in Washington before Obama, and Obama exploded onto the national political scene as soon as he arrived in Washington, both men have been considered rising stars within the Democratic Party for several years.
Should Davis decide to run for governor, he will face a daunting challenge-much like the one Obama decided to tackle:
The challenge facing Davis' possible campaign for Alabama's governorship could prove just as daunting as Obama's for the presidency. With the likely primary opposition of Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. and/or Agriculture Secretary Ron Sparks, a prospective gubernatorial campaign by Davis could be seen in the most-friendly terms as akin to Obama's Iowa caucus campaign against Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, or in the most-unfriendly terms as Obama's West Virginia primary campaign against Sen. Clinton — the former a solid win for Obama and the latter a resounding defeat.
If Artur Davis were to best those two Democratic giants in the primary, likely awaiting him in the general election would be a well- financed Republican — possibly Attorney General Troy King, two-year-college Chancellor Bradley Byrne or lobbyist Luther Strange.
How could Davis succeed in a tough environment? Sherer offers a prescription:
For Davis to brave this or a similar gauntlet on his way to becoming Alabama's first black governor, he must take a strategic path similar to that of Obama. During his campaign, President-elect Obama was respectful and cognizant of those in the civil rights movement generation and the sacrifices they made for individuals just like him.
Yet Obama sought to move the nation past its historic divisions and prejudices, and toward the challenges and opportunities of the future. Much the same, Davis cannot be seen as "the black candidate" who seeks to represent only certain margins of Alabama. He needs to be viewed as the candidate who is genuinely seeking to unite Alabama and move the state toward success in all socio-economic measurements. . . . "
Sherer notes that Obama won partly by going into places like rural Ohio, locations that Al Gore and John Kerry largely ignored:
Obama proved how successful Howard Dean's 50-state strategy could be. Davis would have to mount a well-financed 67-county strategy in order to be successful. . . .
Davis must prove to Alabamians that he is the person who can bring order, civility and a sense of purpose to Montgomery, just as many believe President-elect Obama can bring to Washington.