Ken Hare In Depth: Davis can't sue his way into Democrats' hearts

Ken Hare In Depth: Davis can't sue his way into Democrats' hearts

The desire to hold public office apparently is so overwhelming in Artur Davis that it seemingly doesn't much matter to him what office he seeks, or what party he would represent, or even how much it costs him financially. Perhaps, just perhaps, he wants to hold public office a little too much.

Davis, who represented Alabama's 7th District in Congress for four terms starting in 2003, has since run for governor, for mayor of Montgomery, and now wants to run for a seat on the Montgomery County Commission. He even flirted with running for Congress in Virginia as a Republican.

He won his seat in Congress as a Democrat, and probably could have stayed there for as long as he wished. But as he positioned himself to run for governor in 2010, he voted against Obamacare, one of the mainstay goals of the Democratic Party but an anathema to the majority of Alabama voters. That vote may have positioned him to win the general election for governor in Alabama, but he never got the opportunity. That vote, and other actions, cost him the support of the leaders of the Alabama Democratic Party. He lost the party primary to Ron Sparks, who in turn was soundly whipped by Republican Robert Bentley.

After his loss in the Democratic Party primary in 2010, a clearly bitter Davis moved to Virginia, where he shifted to the Republican Party. In 2012, he spoke at the Republican national convention in support of Mitt Romney and again was critical of President Obama. He considered a run for retiring Republican Congressman Frank Wolf's seat in Virginia, but bowed out of the race in late 2013.

Davis then moved back to Montgomery, where he entered the nonpartisan race for the mayor's office. Still struggling to regain support of the largely Democratic black community but facing a popular incumbent, Davis was trounced in the mayor's race.

Davis contributed $643,000 of his own money to his mayor's campaign, but failed to force a runoff in the four-person race. But despite that heavy investment and his overwhelming defeat, Davis promised to again seek the mayor's seat in four years. But no sooner than that promise was made, Davis surfaced as a Democratic candidate for an open seat on the Montgomery County Commission.

However, to do that Davis had to get around the Alabama Democratic Party's Radney Rule, which prohibits a potential candidate from running for office as a Democrat until at least four years after supporting a Republican candidate for office.

The Alabama Democratic Executive Committee resoundingly rejected a request by Davis for a waiver to the Radney Rule. Now Davis is suing the party he wants to represent, calling the Radney Rule unconstitutionally vague and claiming the executive committee is selectively enforcing it.

Davis's claims about the Radney Rule and the selective enforcement appear to have some merit, but Alabama courts in the past have been reluctant to get involved in the inner workings of party politics.

Still, even if Davis were to prevail in court, he may win the battle only to lose the war. Davis not only has to get on the party ballot, but he needs to win the hearts and votes of a majority of Democrats. Suing the party's leadership hardly seems the best way to do that.

If I had been advising Davis (and I'm not), I would have suggested that he forget about running for office anytime soon after losing the mayor's race. Instead, first he should have decided once and for all whether he is a Democrat or a Republican. That decision should be based on fundamental beliefs, not on political expediency.

Then, assuming he decided he was a Democrat, he should have gotten involved in Democratic Party politics at the local and state level, supporting other party candidates both publicly and financially. Only after a few years of mending fences should he have considered becoming a candidate again. (Contrary to some earlier media reports, the Radney Rule does not prevent Davis from rejoining the state Democratic Party, only from running for office as a Democrat.)

Early in his political career, I was a Davis fan. His centrist leanings appealed to the moderate in me. He is clearly intelligent and has a great grasp of governmental policies. But intelligence does not always translate into solid political instincts. Back in the governor's race, he had to move toward the moderate wing of the Democratic Party to have a chance in the general election, but he failed to do that in a way that did not stir the wrath of the party leadership. He is still paying the price for that error in judgment.

Davis may still have a future in Alabama politics, but he has a long way to go to overcome his past mistakes. He has to mend fences with at least some of the Democratic political leadership, although he probably will never have party stalwart Joe Reed on his side; there remains a lot of animosity there. He has to persuade Democrats at large that he is sincere in wanting to return to the party's fold. It will take time for them to forget his affair with the GOP or his support of an Obama opponent.

Will Alabama Democrats ever welcome Davis as a prodigal son back into the fold?  It's unlikely, but possible. After all, many black voters forgave the late George Wallace for his years of anti-black rhetoric and voted for him in his last race for governor. So perhaps Democrats will forgive Davis.
Davis may sue his way onto the Democratic ballot, but he will never sue his way back into the hearts of Democratic voters.

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