Note: Mr. Davis will be speaking tonight at the Republican National Convention. Don’t miss him.
One would instinctively conclude that it is a tremendous act of courage to have been a leading Black supporter of President Obama – in fact, the first Congressman outside of Illinois to endorse Obama for president – and then change parties to become a Republican. But if you ask Artur Davis, he’d tell you that it was completely natural and the right thing to do.
Artur Davis had every appearance of being a standard-issue Black politician. He was good enough to get into Harvard as an undergraduate, and then matriculate to Harvard Law School. He then interned at the Southern Poverty Law Center and started working for the government as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He first ran for Congress in 2000 as a Democrat because, as he says, “everyone he knew was a Democrat and that was how he was brought up.” He was elected to Congress in 2002, served four terms, and then lost in the primary for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Alabama.
But despite this electoral history, there were telltale signs that Mr. Davis was different. He voted against ObamaCare. He told me he thought the plan was “too unpredictable, too expensive, and not actually going to help people in the manner it was intended.” He came out in favor of voter ID, which is loathed by most Black officials, adding that 60% of Black voters support common-sense voter ID laws, and that they have been in place for years in Alabama with no negative effects. Davis has little patience for those who accuse opponents of Obama’s policies of racism. He believes that in a democracy, it is the obligation of the opposition to clearly and cogently voice their concerns with the policies of the party in power. To call that racism because the office holder is Black degrades the political process.
In fact, Davis was a different kind of politician from the beginning. He had no political mentor and therefore was not obligated to any single individual, special interest, or philosophy. He threw himself into his Congressional job, which is where he began to experience reality, and what he saw first-hand was the misguided system that our federal government has become. In his words, “We were throwing money at problems whether the program was working or not.” He saw clearly the bloat, the waste, and, above all, the endless pandering to interest groups.
How does someone who went as far as he did make the change he made? When one speaks to Mr. Davis, it becomes quite clear that he is a very thoughtful and principled man. He decided that he was elected as a Democrat and should remain in the party while in office. But once outside of the political arena, he had a chance to step back, engage in some serious reflection, and analyze where he stood. What he discovered was that the party he had joined was not what he had thought. Davis found the Democrats to be a party that has become “narrower and narrower,” and he characterized it as a “monolithic party.”
After a period of reflection, Davis became a Republican. Because prominent Black officials such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have been called Uncle Toms just for being Republicans, one might think Davis to be unusually courageous. He dismisses such compliments, maintaining that what he did was just common sense.
Davis told me that he hasn’t suffered retribution from Democrats and has been warmly welcomed and strongly supported by Republicans. More importantly, his perspective of how he is viewed reflects his experience. He feels that as a Democrat, he was treated as part of a group – Black Americans – but as a Republican, he is perceived as an individual and treated as a person.
Would Davis’s change of party matter as much if he were not Black? No. But it has more meaning than the fact that he was an early endorser of Obama and has turned his back on the President’s party. He offers two things to the Republicans: first, an individual that minority groups perceive as one of their own who can eloquently argue the principles of the party. Second, Davis very effectively makes a case that Republicans can win the Black vote by promoting initiatives to change their lives through reform-oriented, free-market Republican policies. As an example, he cites Governor Bobby Jindal’s efforts to reform schools in Louisiana: 75% of those affected are Blacks. Republicans have a lot of room to appeal to Blacks and Davis can help guide them there.
Usually when a politician changes parties it is a craven political move. It often happens after their party has lost the majority, while in a reelection mode or when they’re promised plum committee assignments. Artur Davis changed parties for all the right reasons, and Republicans should embrace him warmly and give serious thought to his ideas about appealing to Black voters.
It appears that Americans will be hearing much more from this very capable man.