Alabama Democrats Reject Health Reform Foe

Alabama Democrats Reject Health Reform Foe

Alabama Democrats Reject Health Reform Foe

Conservative Democrat Artur Davis opposed healthcare reform, ran to the right on other issues and lost a supposedly certain Democratic nomination for governor of Alabama. The lesson of this race extends far beyond Alabama.


Conservative pundits and pols claimed after Congress backed health-care reform that southern Democrats who voted for the measure had doomed themselves politically. 

In fact, it may be the other way around, and that’s something that Democrats across the country should note.


The spin holds that backing health-care reform was a politically risky move for Democrats.


But the evidence from primary after primary this year points to a different interpretation: That the opponents of reform may well suffer more serious electoral consequences than the supporters.


The latest evidence comes from the deep south.


Let’s consider the bad turn that the political career of  Alabama Congressman Artur Davis just took.


Davis had everything the national pundits – on the right and the left — seemed to think he needed.


The DC insiders  toted up congressman’s credentials — Harvard-educated, good-looking, militantly pro-business — and dubbed him the certain winner of the Democratic nomination for governor of Alabama.


Here, they said, was an African-American Democrat so conservative that he could even appeal to right-leaning independents and some Republicans, they claimed, as pre-primary headlines noted his fund-raising advantage and high national profile. The New York Times couldn’t get enough of Davis, repeatedly hailing him as some sort of "new south" coalition builder.


There was only one problem.


While Davis was a winner with the punditocracy, he didn’t appeal to grassroots Democrats in Alabama. In fact, his candidacy was opposed by African-American political groups, veteran civil rights campaigners and many of the state’s unions.


On Tuesday, Democratic voters rejected his gubernatorial bid by an overwhelming margin — choosing instead an old-school populist who highlighted the congressman’s conservatism.


While Davis peddled DC-insider bromides about cutting taxes and spending, Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks talked about doing everything that was necessary to improve education and health care in the state — even if that required legalizing gambling.


Sparks condemned elites and corrupt pols and declared: "I’m tired of working families being ignored while the rich and powerful get more rich and more powerful."


A critical moment came when Davis was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against legislation to expand access to health care — despite the fact that Alabama (and Davis’ own district) has higher than average numbers of under-insured families.


Sparks responded bluntly, declaring that: "I will not let any Democrat in Alabama forget that Artur Davis voted against health care reform."


The Sparks campaign did just that, circulating a statement that framed the congressman’s stance on reform as a moral failure:


Artur Davis can hide behind all of the attack ads and the press releases he wants to. He can talk all he wants to about old politics and new, but what he won’t talk about is his vote on health care reform.

This is not just about a political vote, this is about a moral responsibility Artur Davis had to his constituents. There were more than 66,000 people in his district without health insurance. Many more who depend on public health care. Many who suffer with inadequate health care.

And every one of those 66,000 and more are people who are suffering. People who are sick. People who have been turned away. People who are working hard yet still can’t get health insurance. They are the people who Artur Davis owed a moral responsibility to.

On the night of March 21, Artur Davis made a conscious decision to push a button and turn away 66,000 uninsured people in his district from adequate health care.

The young, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed. He made a decision to deny them of the health care they need.

This was not just a vote. This was a moral responsibility. And, Davis, driven by his ambition, said to them, "You won’t get the health care you need today. Not from me. You will not find any compassion from me on this day."

It’s called character.

It’s called courage.

Artur Davis has neither.

Alabama needs a governor with both.




The argument resonated.



As the election approached, Sparks won endorsements from African-American political groups with long records of grassroots activism in the state, including the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Alabama New South Coalition. He was endorsed by prominent African-American leaders such as former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington and state Senator Hank Sanders, as well as veteran civil rights and union leader Joe Reed.


The United Mine Workers and the United Auto Workers both backed Sparks.


So did former Governor Don Siegelman, who was targeted for prosecution by the Bush administration’s Justice Department but who remains a popular figure with Alabama Democrats.



In an email to voters, Siegelman wrote:


For the first time ever, I am endorsing a candidate in the Alabama Democratic Primary.


I’m proud to join political leaders like Dr. Richard Arrington, Hank Sanders, Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Conference and New South Coalition in supporting Ron Sparks for Governor. Why?… because I know Ron’s heart is right.


Ron Sparks wants to create jobs, pay for free college scholarships for our children with our own Educational Lottery and pay for nursing home care for our seniors by taxing casinos. Ron is courageous and the hardest working man I’ve seen, well, since I was a candidate.


That would be enough but I am also disappointed in Artur Davis…Not only because he voted agaist health care and took a bunch of money from insurance companies, but Artur has taken several thousands of dollars in contributions from the very people who had me prosecuted and put in prison.


I just don’t understand who Artur really is deep inside. But I do know who Ron Sparks is and what he stands for, and I like everything I know about Ron Sparks. So, it’s for these reasons that I am supporting Ron Sparks for Governor.


Like Siegelman, a lot of Alabama Democrats had a hard time getting comfortable with Davis. As the Birmingham News noted: "observers in Davis’ camp said Sparks’ victory appears to have been achieved, at least in part, because of low voter turnout among blacks who, unlike two years ago when they showed up in big numbers to vote for Barack Obama, showed no such enthusiasm for Davis on Tuesday.


Overall, primary voters backed Sparks by an almost 2-1 margin in what the News referred to as "one of the more remarkable upsets in Alabama primary history.



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