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Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
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Governorship possible, says Davis,
but first, it's 'Artur,' not 'Arthur'

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
If Sam Jones' election in 2005 as the first black mayor of Mobile provided a glimpse of Barack Obama's future, does Obama's election as the nation's first black president pre-sage Artur Davis' arrival next year as the first black governor in the Heart of Dixie?

To extend the reverie and perhaps complete the circle, will Jones' GOTV juggernaut in Mobile be vital to victory for Davis in both or either the Democratic primary and the general election?

At present, it appears that Jones may not be tested in municipal elections this summer, suggesting his juggernaut won't be required to perform at the high level it delivered in 2005. Still, it will be less than five years removed from its stellar showing in the 2005 municipal elections. Rested and ready.

Mobile is particularly worth watching in relation to Davis' electoral prospects. Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. arguably has Mobile to thank for his 2006 victory over Luther Strange, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, and until his mildly surprising loss to Folsom seen as the brightest rising star in the state's Republican constellation. Folsom's margin of victory in Mobile County was a virtual match for his 20,000 margin statewide. If Davis neutralizes Folsom in Mobile, assuming Folsom indeed decides to run for governor in 2010, the congressman is probably the Democratic nominee and Folsom is back in Buck's Pocket resuming his career as fulltime bond counsel/investment banker. With prospective GOP nominees Bradley Byrne, Jack Hawkins, Kay Ivey and Tim James all having ties to Mobile/Baldwin and/or southwest Alabama, the Mobile area's political importance should stretch into the general election.

Davis late last week in Birmingham made his plans public. He followed up on that appearance with a reception in Mobile earlier this week at the International Trade Club. About 100 area Democrats and news media gathered to hear Davis give his campaign's introductory address.

A very good, perhaps even eloquent, speaker, Davis would not be done a grave disservice to boil his 20-25 minute talk down to "Alabama's past does not have to dictate its future."

His high note was the need for a greater commitment to education, with corporations carrying a heavier burden than now in exchange for a better trained workforce. The local applause line was Mobile should and will get at least a part of the $40 billion contract to build aircraft refueling tankers for the U.S. military.

Though he did not say so in as many words, Davis clearly evoked the parallels between his gubernatorial try and Obama's presidential bid. Many Democrats in Alabama, including leading African-American figures, supported Hillary Clinton "because she can win and goal number one is to take the White House back from the Republicans." And now, some Democrats express frustration, even disgust with Davis because he would spoil Democratic hopes of regaining the governor's mansion from two-term Bob Riley and the GOP behind either of two electable Democrats, Folsom and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. In either instance, it seems that those discouraging Obama and Davis were and are older establishment figures and those saying 'why the heck not?' are fresher, newcomers to the political wars.

However, Obama may have made some inroads for Davis with his epochal win. Local Democratic veteran and staunch Clintonite Pat Edington hosted the meet and greet for Davis. Davis interrupted his remarks to acknowledge the tardy arrival of retired state Supreme Court Justice Douglas Johnstone who strives mightily against the years to keep at least one foot in the dewy-cheeked camp along the generational divide.  

Davis credited Johnstone for his service on a patronage commitee that the congressman tapped to identify the best nominees for appointment to the various federal posts in Alabama under an Obama administration. He then sought the gathering's applause for the committee's recommendation for U.S. Attorney in Mobile -- Vicki Davis (no relation), a former state district court judge who is now an assistant in the U.S. Attorney's office here.     

Mobile County District Atttorney John Tyson Jr., Davis' former boss in her days as an assistant state prosecutor, was in attendance, one of the few Democratic officeholders on hand. School Board member Reginald Crenshaw was present. Former Democratic elected officials were plentiful, including Johnstone, former Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, ex-Prichard Mayor A.J. Cooper, former Sheriff Tom Purvis, former county commissioner and state Sen. Gary Tanner and ex-state Sen. Bob Edington.

Democrat Adam Bourne, who holds a non-partisan seat on the Chickasaw City Council, was present.

Though not an officeholder, the district attorney office's chief investigator, Tony Goubil, was an attendee. Goubil hopes to win appointment as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Alabama.

Republican School Board Member Judy Stout attended. Stout said she came at the invitation of churchmate Pat Edington, adding that she had heard Davis speak to a state school officials conference last year and was impressed with the depth of his understanding of and concern with the issues facing public education.

Davis uses the old trope that Alabama would be first in the universe if its citizens were as demanding about the quality of public education as they are about the quality of football at Auburn and Alabama. 

"Alabama's children deserve the best public school system we can possibly provide," he said. "We can't if we're 42nd in the nation and bragging because we're not 48th. That's not the standard we have for our football teams. What we ask of our football teams is more rigorous than what we ask of our schools."

Davis said if a parent chooses to send his child to a private school, the reason shouldn't be lack of quality.

"If it is for some other reason, I leave that to you," he said. "But it will be my job to see that the reason is not because the public school, the neighborhood school, is not good enough."       
Is, asked Davis, the election of a black Democrat as governor of Alabama any more far-fetched than the thought just a few years ago of Alabama as an international leader in the manufacture of automobiles? As a producer of rockets? As the frontrunner for production of an aircraft refueling tanker for the U.S. military? So, is it any more hard to imagine a black youngster from Montgomery standing on the spot where Jefferson Davis (no relation) took the oath of office as president of the Confederate States of America, dreaming of becoming governor of the state and seeing the dream come true? Hey, it wouldn't be the first time a Davis was inaugurated as head of government in Montgomery.     

To those who say Obama's numbers (39 percent in Alabama) don't lie, Davis would say he is not Obama, Obama's numbers are not his numbers and Obama's campaign in Alabama is decidedly not his campaign in Alabama. Though Davis chaired the Obama campaign in Alabama, the state did not figure in Obama's electoral college calculus. So Obama was not here nor was his money.

Davis said his campaign would not be traditional. He said he would not salivate after endorsements. He said his political beliefs were conservative and liberal, not all one or the other, so that he expected hardcore partisans of either stripe to find disfavor with his campaign. He would settle for the support of the 80 percent existing in between the two political extremes.

Of the many issues that Alabama needed to address, one of the obvious ones, now in the glaring light of the reeling economy, is the state's reliance on an unpredictable source of revenue to fund its basic services, he noted. Davis said he and the state's corporate CEO's could come together in a meeting of the minds that addressed the most pressing concerns of either.

Davis said he saw the need for a return of social services to the schools. To those who say these matters are best left to parents, Davis said too often the parents are not there or are incapable and in either case, the child is not at fault. Churches bear a greater responsibility than they are currently carrying in working with at-risk youth, said Davis.

Davis said the Mobile area would become well aware of his platform as the campaign developed because the area is crucial to his strategy.

Every long march begins with an initial step, and the would-be historical figure will strive to imprint indelibly in the minds and on the tongues of all the area's television news anchors that the name is "Artur" and not "Arthur."
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