America Just Elected Its First Black President
Are the people of Alabama ready for an African-American governor?
by Glynn Wilson
ATLANTA, Ga. — Some historians say the final battle of the Civil War was fought at Sayler’s Creek, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. Try bringing that up in a political bar like Manuel’s Tavern in downtown Atlanta, however, and see how fast you can start an argument.
While everyone knows that Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the war, many an expert would argue that the old, lingering causes of the war survived in people’s attitudes long after the fighting on the bloody battle fields came to a gentlemanly end.
Ask the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, those who had to fight those battles all over again in the 1950s and ’60s.
Then there are thinkers and writers who will tell you, if you give them half a chance over a few shots of whiskey or a few pints of dark beer, that the election of George W. Bush in 2000 effectively erased the Union’s victory in the war and was finally, at long last, a victory for the old Confederacy. Putting aside the issue of election theft and the Supreme Court, ponder the idea that Bush came into office in large measure by the hands of mostly white voters from the old Confederate states of the Deep South, with some help from middle America and parts of the West.
Since Obama’s election even the TV pundits will tell you the only base left for the national Republican Party lies in the old states of the Confederacy, thanks in part to the scorched earth strategies of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, whose marches to Washington and Baghdad with Bush scarred the national character almost as much as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s fiery “March to the Sea.”
Then consider that while Bush’s campaign coffers may not have been filled by the profits from cotton, hand-picked on plantations worked by slaves, the mega corporations that mostly supported his candidacy were interested in keeping wages low and gutting the rights of juries in courtrooms to punish corporate crimes against working people, humanity and the earth. Bush got most of his money to run in 2000 from oil and other energy companies, including Exxon Mobile and Southern Company, as well as insurance companies and the pharmaceutical giants. He came into office — in the world prior to 9/11 — with the prime objective to pass national “tort reform,” the watchword for stopping juries from rendering multi-million dollar judgments against multi-national corporations.
Rove had already accomplished that feat in Alabama — once known as the top state in the country for large jury awards against corporate malfeasance — by helping the Republican Party orchestrate a political takeover of the state Supreme Court.
If you ask just about any academic expert who studies the demographic numbers from public opinion polls and election results, you could say Americans finally fought the final battle of the Civil War on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Symbolically, it took another Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, to put together enough of a national coalition to defeat Confederate attitudes once and for all.
Jim Gundlach, a retired Auburn Sociology professor, harbors a special fascination for the “age” variable in public opinion research, mainly for the story it tells on an issue like public attitudes on race and the chances of electing African-American candidates to national and statewide office.
He ran the model on Obama’s candidacy before the election and predicted that the best he could possibly do in a national race was to win by about 7 percent, if he ran a flawless campaign and the other side stumbled (can you say Sarah Palin?). And Obama hit the number almost right on the dot, winning by about 7 percent nationally in the popular vote.Rep. Artur Davis in Birmingham recently…
If you run the same model in a state like Alabama, where Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis is making noises about running for governor, what you find is that the state is at least a decade away from fighting the final battle of the Civil War. It will take that long, according to the numbers, for the younger and more progressive population to overtake the older diehards on the race issue, who will finally die off in substantial enough numbers for a black man to have a chance of moving into the governor’s mansion in Montgomery, in the city where the Confederacy was launched in 1861.
“People do not change their minds on core issues in their lifetimes,” Gundlach says. “That’s a fact.”
Fiefdom vs. Merit System
To make an even broader point about the state of the country from the data, America is just now situated demographically to be ready to throw off the idea of government by fiefdom. That is, where all the president’s or governor’s brownnosers get all the jobs, the classic patronage or spoils system.
Bush ran the country like a monarchy, where loyal subjects had to kiss the president-king’s ring to gain favor in court. All they had to do for their appointments, especially at the Justice Department, was to show a Federalist Society membership card at the door, along with a copy of their GOP campaign contributions — and a letter from a preacher. Obama is already moving to what academics might call a model of “liberal bureaucracy,” where merit and excellence matter.
Obama’s team is conducting national searches for members of his administration and appointing people who have unique qualifications for the jobs. He has already shown he will appoint people who have disagreed with him in the past. Take his appointment of Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Even after a sometimes bitterly fought campaign with the Clinton’s taking direct jabs at Obama’s qualifications and fitness for the highest office in the land, once the campaign ended, he is bringing even his most bitter political enemies into the tent with him, much like Lincoln did after he won the election of 1860.
In many ways, Alabama is still stuck in a model of government set up under the fiefdom of George Corley Wallace. And look what happened at Auburn when Bobby Lowder had a chance to change things, but ran it like his own fiefdom. The result was not, let’s just say, what you would call excellence, even on the football field.
While there are those involved in state government who realize this is the case, Alabama is yet to reform its outdated 1901 constitution, and it may be years before other reforms are even possible here. In the year 2000, Alabama became the last state in the country to repeal a century-old ban against interracial marriage, an unenforceable but embarrassing throwback to the state’s segregationist past. But consider that a little more than 40 percent of the population still voted to keep the ban in place.
That is a clear indicator to an expert such as Gundlach that Artur Davis is trying to fight the final battle of the Civil War in Alabama a bit too soon — a decade too soon.
Plus, Gundlach said, in testing the waters so far, Davis has not shown that he has really thought through what it might take to win, or revealed the details of any plan he might have for what he could do to “move the state forward” from the governor’s office.
When confronted on the question recently at the Civil Rights Institute in downtown Birmingham, Davis would not sit still to take and answer many questions about his plans. He will say simply that the best office from which to “move the state forward” is the governor’s office.
“He has thought about it to the depth of coming up with a campaign slogan, which is on par with Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism,'” Gundlach said. “Bush had no idea what compassionate conservatism would be, but he knew it sounded good, or Rove did anyway. I just don’t see in Davis’s background providing him with the insights to have the levers to make Alabama work to change.”
While Gundlach is retired now and can speak his mind without fear of professional reprisal, there are a number of people involved in the Alabama Democratic Party who have expressed alarm about a Davis candidacy who would not speak openly on the record. Reliable sources confirm that four of the top Democratic leaders in the state legislature recently met with Davis to try to talk him out of running. Even the powers among the trial lawyers, the chief fund raising mechanism for the Democratic Party along with the Alabama Education Association, are trying to talk him out of it. Some sources say Davis is trying to figure out a graceful way to bow out now that he has all but tossed his hat into the ring. A new trial balloon out today indicates Davis is now being screened for a job in the Obama administration.
As evidence that Davis could not win the Democratic Party primary, much less the general election, experts on Alabama politics point to the recent presidential election results. About 80 percent of white voters in the state voted for McCain-Palin, even declared Democrats. But that does not tell the whole story. It wasn’t just the race issue that caused many in the state not to vote for Obama. It was the power of the Internet, where messages were passed from one computer to many more with the false rumor that Obama was a “Muslim” and a “terrorist” and that his birth certificate from Hawaii was “inauthentic.” Numerous contacts with people in this state, including long-time union members and Yellow Dog Democrats from days gone by, confirm that people believed those things, wanted to believe them.
Davis is a single man who holds a safe seat in a Congressional district gerrymandered to be a majority black district. He could hold that seat for life if he wanted to, and do great things for the state, while getting to work every day in that beautiful U.S. Capitol building in D.C. His statewide name recognition is not great, however. To position himself to win a statewide race, he has announced plans to marry in January. But would that stop the right-wing attack machine from going after him over the Internet in a statewide race if he were to win the primary? Probably not.
And while Davis gained some recognition for his role on the House Judiciary Committee in the investigation of the political prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman, indications are since the presidential election he has joined a camp in Washington, D.C., which supposedly includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who would rather not continue the investigations of crimes by Bush administration officials — including Karl Rove’s contempt of Congress and obstruction of justice for the destruction of documents, including e-mail messages.
When confronted with the question, Davis will not say what position HE takes. He will only indicate it’s up to the chairman of the committee.
“I’ll let John Conyers decide what to do about that,” he said. “I don’t know what Conyers is going to do.”
Davis tried to claim credit for being the one to “unearth” GOP whistle-blower Jill Simpson and to take her testimony before the committee staff, although he never called her or anyone else from Montgomery to testify before the full committee, except for Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who represented Siegelman early on in the case. Jones was quoted beforehand in The Locust Fork News-Journal and the Progressive Populist newspaper out of Austin, Texas, in an article that made it’s way into the Congressional record.
Some Democrats say Davis had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” into the investigation, and to get a green light from Alabama Power Company to do it. Davis said the committee did ask for a contempt citation against Karl Rove, but he blamed it on “the leadership” in the House for not scheduling a vote in the full Congress. He said there would be time in the next Congress to continue the investigation, as indicated by the Senate Judiciary Committee press secretary in a recent story. But he would not give a clear indication he is pushing the issue.
“Look, I think everybody — except The Birmingham News — knew there was a taint and a cloud of suspicion around the Siegelman prosecution all along,” Davis said. He said “it will be up to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta to decide the fate of Siegelman and Scrushy,” although he indicated the court’s decision could influence Congress in its investigation.
For his lack of a clear stance on that, and the recent information that has come to light about his close ties to Bill and Leura Canary in Montgomery, Davis has angered many of Siegelman’s supporters. And now charges are flying that Davis actually protected both Bill Canary, the head of the conservative Business Council of Alabama, and his wife Leura, the U.S. attorney who brought charges against Siegelman in Montgomery, by not pushing for them to be called or subpoenaed to testify before the committee in Washington. Attorneys across the state are still talking about the allegation that Davis is trying to figure out a way to help keep Canary on as U.S. attorney in Montgomery, even though Davis recently denied it on a left-wing political blog rather than offer direct answers to our questions.
Financial disclosure forms show that Davis has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions form the Canaries over the years, far more than other Democrats. An analysis of his campaign contributions also reveals that only 8 percent of his money comes from Alabama, while much of it comes from New York and the lobby associated with the PAC advocating for the State of Israel.[See the campaign contributions from Canary to Davis from the OpenSource.org site in this PDF file]
Davis Ties to AIPAC and Israel
Rep. Davis helped by group tied to spy case
The Birmingham News has already run one column making fun of Davis for being a “dot dot dot Ivy Leaguer, ” a jab at the fact that he is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School.
To his credit, that is one of the reasons he’s considered about the only politician from Alabama right now with a future in Washington by the powers that be in D.C. and New York. But the question is, how will that play in Alabama in the governor’s race of 2010?
When Davis speaks in D.C., what they see is an educated man of 41 who is one of them in a sense, a Harvard man, who has a chance to be a top leader in the House one day — or even the Senate.
Whenever Jeff Sessions gets up to speak on the Senate floor, on the other hand, sources say the other senators just smirk and leave the room. Senator Richard Shelby, who is now in the national spotlight for his stance opposing the Bush administration’s plan to offer a short-term loan to stop the utter collapse of the American automobile manufacturing industry, is seen simply as a good old boy. In apparently trying to position himself as a conservative Democrat, Davis also voted against the bailout bill in the House, although it passed anyway but stalled in the Senate due to the opposition from Shelby and his fellow Republicans.
Siegelman, as a Rhodes Scholar who held every statewide elective office over a two decade political career, was the rising star in the Alabama Democratic Party. But Karl Rove’s election theft in 2002 and the Bush Justice Department’s political prosecution beginning in 2005 derailed his climb.
There were some minor political players in Alabama who thought Governor Bob Riley had a chance at the national stage. They touted him as a vice presidential contender for the McCain campaign. Sources close to the McCain campaign say he was never seriously considered, however, since there was no way they were going to take a chance on Riley or anyone else from here because of the perception that the Alabama Republican Party is such a “cesspool of corruption” due to the political prosecutions and other issues related to defense contracts.
Davis will get a fairly prominent mention in a book due out soon about a new generation of black leaders emerging in the post-Civil Rights era. Public Television’s Gwen Ifill’s first book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, is scheduled to be released January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day. It will profile several African-American politicians, including Davis and a couple of his Harvard cohorts, Obama and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
Some of the key players in the downtown Birmingham Democratic Party say Davis is jealous of their success, while he is still just one Congressman among 435 other members. Davis puts on a show of denying it, but he does act like someone who craves executive authority.
Will the fame from the book, his friendship with Obama and his forays around the state be enough to propel Davis into the governor’s office in Alabama, or even enough to help him win the Democratic Party’s primary in 2010?
Most political experts in Alabama, including state party officials, say even if Davis were to win the party’s nomination, a long shot at best, that would just hand the election to the Republicans and guarantee a GOP takeover of the legislature in 2010. It would split the party apart, and bring what’s left of the racist population out of the woodwork against him, like the crowd that showed up in great numbers when McCain chose a lightening rod like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham, who is already in a public brawl with Davis over who should have standing to recommend political appointments to the incoming Obama administration, said a Davis candidacy for governor would “virtually kills us in down-the-ballot races.” He said Davis has every right to run, but he wonders if that would be best for the party or the state.
Some sources say the stance Davis is taking on that issue is a direct challenge to Joe Reed, who holds powerful sway over Democratic Party politics in Montgomery and who openly supported Hillary Clinton for president early on. He even refused to switch his support to Obama leading up to the convention in Denver this summer until the last minute. When given an opportunity to say something about the governor’s race while attending the appeal hearing for Siegelman in Atlanta this week, however, Reed was not his usual outspoken self.
“I think anybody who wants to run should run,” he said, a departure from what he’s been quoted as saying in other newspapers in recent weeks.
Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. is not talking much about it yet, but he is running for sure, sources close to the former governor say. He’s already said he will make an announcement of his intention to run in January. If Folsom runs, Agricultural Commissioner Ron Sparks will not run, sources say, since awhile back he made such a promise to the son of “Big Jim” Folsom, the legendary Populist governor in the 1940s and ’50s.
Folsom has that same good-old-boy exterior of politicians from Alabama’s past such as Senator Howell Heflin. But those who know him best say he possesses a certain political wisdom, even though he’s sometimes slow to act. The business community sees him as someone you can do business with. It seems almost forgotten that he was governor and the first to sit down in another tavern over a German beer when the first automobile plant decided to locate in the state, the Mercedes plant that came to Vance and started the transformation of the state’s economy around the automobile manufacturing industry. Plus, Folsom’s wife Marsha is also seen as someone who would be a smart and effective First Lady, who could help him carry the day over a wide-open Republican field of lesser known candidates.
Bradley Byrne, the head of Alabama’s two-year college system, could be considered as Gov. Bob Riley’s heir apparent on the Republican side. Although sources close to Riley say he is not closing the door on his son Rob, who will have to make the decision himself. Rob Riley had ambitions to run for the seat in 2006 before his dad chose to run for re-election. Birmingham attorney Luther Strange has been mentioned, although he might be more likely to run for Attorney General to replace Troy King, who may run for governor, although it’s doubtful he could win considering the enemies he’s made. Sources say Tim James, the son of former Alabama Governor Fob James, is definitely running, although they say he is not likely to top his 8 percent performance from last time. Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins may also jump into the race, as well as “Yella Man” Jimmy Rane and state Treasurer Kay Ivey.
Charles Barkley is still a wild card, but he’s said publicly he has pushed his ambitions back to 2014.
If Davis does not find a graceful way out of the race soon, and if he decides to try and win the final battle of the Civil War in Alabama perhaps a decade too soon, the big cannons of media fire will surely invade the old Heart of Dixie one more time to watch the show. But Davis might have to appeal to his friend Obama for some help from the Secret Service.
Davis’s chief of staff in his Birmingham office has told everyone who has come calling that Davis will be fine.
“We will go to every little town all over the state, and when they meet him, they will like him,” he is quoted as saying.
But astute observers of the scene say Davis might better watch out in some places in the state, such as Jackson County, where there are still active chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. They are none too happy about the election of the first black president of the United States. If faced with the prospects of an African-American governor, the old Wallace crowd may just be ready to don the old gray colors with the yellow hammer on the sleeve, raise the Confederate battle flag high — and fight that old Civil War battle one more time.
Is Davis truly prepared for that? Or would it be better for everyone involved to save the final battle for a future day, a day when the demographic numbers show it’s really time, finally, for Alabama to move on and out of its Dixie past?
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© 2008 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.