INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE

In 1986 I was a young 34 year old politician. I was running unopposed for my second four-year term in the state legislature from my hometown of Troy. My best lifetime friend Keith Watkins was also 34 and was a young practicing attorney in Troy. We had been close friends since childhood. Richard Shelby did not know of our closeness but ironically Keith and I were the only two people that Shelby knew in Pike County. He asked us to meet him for breakfast and then asked us to be his county campaign managers for his race for the U.S. Senate against Jeremiah Denton.

Denton had been elected as the first Republican senator from Alabama since Reconstruction six years earlier. He had ridden Ronald Reagan’s coattails to victory but then proceeded to spend the next six years writing a book on how to get beat for a U.S. Senate seat. Denton was a great soldier and patriot but a horrible politician and senator. He was vulnerable to say the least. So Shelby’s decision to roll the dice and run against Denton was not as much of a gamble as it appeared.

Shelby had made a conscious decision to leave the 435 member House of Representatives where he felt he would languish in obscurity for the next 20 years. In his own words he said, “I’m either going to the U.S. Senate and be somebody or I’m going home to Tuscaloosa and make some money.”

I have often thought of this scenario when I am asked why Artur Davis would leave a safe House seat to make an uphill race for Governor. Incidentally the congressional seat that Davis is vacating to make the gubernatorial challenge is the same seat that Shelby left 24 years ago.

It would appear to many of us who observe politics that Artur Davis has made a ludicrous decision even if he could win the Governor’s race. You are Governor for four years, maybe eight and given the economic situation of the state, probably only four. Artur is a 40 year old congressman who already has six years seniority under his belt. He is best friends with the President of the United States. He is a rising star in congress. He is in a safe seat. He is on the most powerful committees. He can be a major player in congress for at least two or three decades.

My guess is that he looked at the rat race of being a congressman and decided the grass is greener on the other side. Unquestionably he will be better off financially. Davis has decided to go out in a valiant effort and then make money in Washington or New York. However, he faces a daunting task to be elected Governor of Alabama.

Davis is identical to Barack Obama not only in color but also philosophically. He is running as a liberal in a conservative state. Obama received 39% of the vote in Alabama. It is hard to envision how Davis can improve on that. He is basically an Obama clone. A good many of the same folks who voted for George Wallace in 1970 as the most racist candidate in the most racist campaign in history are still alive and still voting. Furthermore, it is unlikely that an intellectual, Harvard educated, sophisticated man named Artur could be elected governor of Alabama regardless of his race.

Forty years ago Wallace not only ran against integration, he also ran against “pointy headed liberals” who went to Ivy League schools and “did not have enough common sense to park their bicycles straight.” Davis is not only black, he is a liberal intellectual elitist. One of the most telling illustrations of contrast between Davis and his Democratic opponent Ron Sparks revealed itself early in the campaign fundraising season. On the same day that Sparks was having a fish fry in rural Fayette County, Davis was at a penthouse in Manhattan at the home of the chic ultra liberal New York attorney Sanford Rubenstein raising money from the most liberal elite in the country. Wallace would have had a field day with this one. I can see him now telling folks, “while my opponent campaigns for Governor of Alabama in New York City, I’m going to campaign for Governor of Alabama in York, Alabama.” In short, Davis looks like someone who would be more at home running for Governor of New York than Governor of Alabama.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

x