DAVIS, Artur

DAVIS, Artur
Image, Congressional Pictorial Directory, 109th.
1967–

Biography

Hailing from a poor Montgomery, Alabama, neighborhood, Artur Davis used his academic prowess to earn two Harvard degrees and to launch a political career that brought him to the U.S. House of Representatives. Elected in 2002, Davis built a reputation as an independent advocate for economic opportunities for low–income Americans, especially attuned to the needs of his constituents.1 "I think I've always been able to overcome obstacles, overcome odds," Davis said, shortly after winning his first election to the U.S. House. "That's why I refuse to accept [that] the Black Belt has to lag behind the rest of our state."2

Artur Davis was born on October 9, 1967, in Montgomery, Alabama. After his parents divorced, he was raised in the west end of Montgomery by his mother, Arthur–May Davis, a schoolteacher and his grandmother, Matty Frier. He attended the city public schools, graduating from Jefferson Davis High School. In 1990, Davis earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard University and, three years later, graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Davis immediately began positioning himself for a career in politics. He clerked for Judge Myron Thompson—one of the first African–American judges appointed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Appointed as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the same district in 1994, Davis served in that capacity until 1999, when he left to make his first run for Congress. On January 1, 2009, he married Tara Johnson.

In the 2000 election campaign, Davis challenged five–term incumbent Earl F. Hilliard in the Democratic primary for a district that represented portions of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa as well as low–income agricultural counties in west–central Alabama that were part of the "Black Belt," so called for its dark, fertile soils. Hilliard prevailed with a 58 percent majority.3 Two years later, however, Hilliard ran into political trouble over perceptions of his lack of influence in the House and criticisms by pro–Israel groups that he favored the Palestinian cause.4 Davis again challenged Hilliard in the Democratic primary, this time with support from the mayors of Birmingham and Selma. In a three–way contest, Hilliard failed to win an outright majority. In the run–off, Davis claimed 56 percent of the vote. In the general election, running against a third party candidate, Davis commanded 92 percent of the vote. In his subsequent re–election campaigns, Davis won 75 percent of the vote in 2004 and faced no major party opposition in 2006 or 2008.5

When Davis claimed his seat in the 108th Congress (2003–2005), he received assignments on the prestigious Budget and Financial Services committees. In the 109th Congress (2005–2007), Representative Davis was appointed a member of the Senior Whip Team for the Democratic Caucus and as vice–chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In the 11oth Congress (2007–2009), Davis left the Budget and Financial Services committees to serve on two plum assignments: Judiciary and Ways and Means. While serving on those committees, he earned a spot on the Committee on House Administration and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee during the 111th Congress (2009–2011).6

Davis described his legislative agenda as one focused on the "fundamentals:" schools, medical care, and transportation infrastructure.7 Like many freshmen Members, Davis committed himself to constituent services, assembling a professional staff that ran five district offices and was eight times larger than the staff of his predecessor.8 Reflecting on his constituent services efforts at the end of his career, Davis said, "I know I did this job better than my predecessor did."9

As a House Member, Davis joined the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the moderate New Democrat Coalition. In the 110th Congress, he served as one of four vice–chairmen of the New Democrats. Here, he earned a reputation as a liberal on economic legislation and as a moderate conservative on controversial social issues. Davis voted with a minority of Democrats to ban partial birth abortion and human cloning; he also supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In 2006, he voted with Republicans to allow oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the 110th Congress, after Democrats regained control of the House, Davis voted in favor of a reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as an overhaul of the law permitting eavesdropping on foreign terrorist. In 2007, he voted against a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against homosexuals.10

On issues of economic equality for Black Americans, Davis voted with his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus. Davis represented the fifth poorest district in the country.11 The U.S. Census Bureau listed five of the 12 counties in Davis's district as being among the 100 poorest in the country. Much of his agenda focused on improving and expanding economic and educational opportunities for his constituents. During his freshman term, Davis successfully led an effort to restore funding for minority land grant colleges—including Tuskegee University—which had been cut by more than 3 percent in the 2004 annual budget. "I think that all of us would recognize that we have some fundamental obligations to treat like institutions in the same manner. . . .While so many programs have had to bear the brunt of the budget ax, we ought to make sure that it is administered in a fair and evenhanded manner," he stated.12 He worked with a bipartisan coalition calling for trade protection, particularly for the steel and catfish industries in order to make U.S. producers, particularly in Alabama, more competitive with China. Aware of the necessity of major transportation arteries for economic growth, Davis also won approval for construction of a new interstate highway through the Black Belt counties.13

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he joined with Chairman John Conyers of Michigan in passing a bill toughening sentencing for hate crimes. "If you don't like people because of who they are, this bill says we are offended by that as a community," Davis stated in support of the measure.14 However, along with his dedication to promoting racial equality, Davis urged fellow black Americans to move past a preoccupation with race, and criticized political strategies, which perpetuated this attitude.15

During the economic crisis in late 2008, Davis supported the George W. Bush administration's financial stabilization package, but did not support loans to the automobile companies. In the 111th Congress, he had a mixed record of support for the Democratic leadership's agenda. While he used his seat on the Ways and Means Committee to aid passage of an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S–CHIP), he was the lone Congressional Black Caucus member, and one of 34 Democrats, to vote against the Patient Protection and Affordable Health–Care Act.16 Explaining his vote to his constituents, Davis said, "I didn't vote against health care—I voted against the bill in Washington . . . I just happen to think that we can't keep throwing a trillion dollars at every problem that we have."17

After Alabama Governor Bob Riley was term–limited out of running for re–election, Davis quickly declared his intent to retire from the House and seek the governorship. On February 6, 2009, he announced his candidacy. His bid for the governorship marked the most serious bid for the state's highest office by an African–American.18 Challenged in the Democratic primary by the Alabama Agricultural Commissioner, Ron Sparks, Davis' candidacy was also harmed by his opposition to the health care law, which was popular among Alabama blacks.19 Sparks defeated Davis with 62 to 38 percent of the vote.20 Afterwards, Davis retired from political life and resumed his career as a lawyer. "I have no interest in running for political office again," he said. "When I ran for Congress, I never had the desire to be a career politician."21

Footnotes

1Jeffrey McMurray, "Davis Vows to Be ‘Executive' Advocate for Poor Constituents," 1 December 2002, Associated Press.

3Bob Johnson, "Hilliard Wins Nomination in 7th District," 6 June 2000, Associated Press.

4David M. Halbinger, "Generational Battle Turns Nasty in Alabama Primary," 3 June 2002, New York Times.

5"Election Statistics, 1920 to Present," http://clerk.house.gov/members/electionInfo/elections.html.

6"Biography Congressman Artur Davis," http://www.house.gov/arturdavis/biography.shtml (site discontinued); Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Group, 2007): 68.

7"Can You Spot the Future Majority Leader? The Hill Queries Nine Freshmen on Their Priorities and Expectations?" 13 November 2002, The Hill: 18.

8"Can You Spot the Future Majority Leader? The Hill Queries Nine Freshmen on Their Priorities and Expectations?"

9Deborah Berry, "Davis Bids Goodbye to Politics, Alabama," Montgomery Adviser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20101219/NEWS/12190327/Davis–bids–goodbye–to–politics–Alabama (accessed 6 January 2011).

10Michael Martin, "Lawmakers Debate Taxes, Workplace Protections," NPR: Tell Me More, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16146269, (accessed 15 August 2011).

11Politics in America, 2010: (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc.: 2009): 17.

12Congressional Record, House, 108th Congress, 1st Session, (14 July 2003): 17862. Mary Orndorff, "House Ok's Davis' Amendment To Restore Land Grant Funds," The Birmingham News, 15 July 2003: 6B.

13"Davis: Highway Bill Big Boon to Black Belt," 29 July 2005, Associated Press.

14Congressional Record, House, 110th Congress, 1st sess. (3 May 2007): H4437.

15Christopher Snow Hopkins, "Southern Discomfort,"11 January 2011, National Journal Daily.

16Jeff Zeleny, "Using Obama Model, Alabama Candidate Runs Coalition Campaign," 1 June 2010, New York Times: 14.

17Andy Powell, "Davis Defends Vote Against Health Care," 24 March, 2010 , The Gadsden Times: 9.

18Charles J. Dean, "U.S. Rep. Artur Davis announces bid to be governor of Alabama," The Birmingham Times, 7 February 2009 at http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/statebriefs.ssf?/base/news/1233998167164210.xml&coll=2 (accessed 5 January 2011).

19Ken Junkie, "Where Did Alabama's Artur Davis Go Wrong? Let Us Count The Ways," National Public Radio.

20Deborah Berry, "Davis bids goodbye to politics, Alabama," Montgomery Adviser, 19 December 2010 at http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20101219/NEWS/12190327/Davis–bids–goodbye–to–politics–Alabama (accessed 6 January 2011).

21Emily Goodin, "After loss, Rep. Davis said he's done with politics," The Hill, 4 June 2010 at http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot–box/governor–races/101431–after–loss–rep–davis–said–hes–done–with–politics (accessed 6 January 2011).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Artur Davis" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Financial Services
  • House Committee - House Administration
  • House Committee - Judiciary
  • House Committee - Select Committee to Investigate the Voting Irregularities of August 2, 2007
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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