Some report elsewhere whatever is told them; the measure of fiction always increases, and each fresh narrator adds something to what he has heard.
It's no secret that Congressman Artur Davis (D, AL-07) is not so quietly considering a run for Governor of Alabama in 2010. Some folks think that's a great thing, others wish Davis would just stay in Congress and let some other Democrat have a clear field in 2010. Given the situation, it's probably inevitable that a few folks would rather start rumors about Davis -- and hope to have them repeated on blogs and in more traditional media -- than argue the merits of potential candidates or even the benefit of having a spirited contest of ideas in a primary.
I spoke with Congressman Davis this morning and he pushed back vigorously at several rumors making the rounds in Alabama political circles. Our conversation will also be the basis for some additional posts, but let's deal with the most widespread rumors today, the ones involving appointment of U.S. Attorneys in Alabama, the investigation into alleged selective prosecution by the DoJ and whether Davis' interest in the 2010 governors race is sincere.
Follow me to the across the fold and we'll go point by point.
First, what are these rumors? If you don't read Locust Fork or Inside Alabama Politics you may have missed them. Yesterday in a comment, Grace pointed us to this rumor posted by Glynn Wilson at Locust Fork Journal:
The hottest rumor out of Montgomery right now is that Davis is running for governor not to win it, but to develop name recognition around the state for a future run at the U.S. Senate. And there’s also an indication that Davis will pick up the support of his old friend Bill Canary at the Business Council of Alabama in the primary. There appears to be a cynical strategy afoot to get a black man on the Democratic ticket so a Republican victory in the general election would be a virtual certainty.
and this one posted as a comment, also by Glynn Wilson:
BTW: Inside Alabama Politics, the political newsletter out of Mobile, is now reporting that Davis is suggesting that Laura (sic) Canary keep her job as U.S. attorney in Montgomery, and that Davis has urged House Judiciary Committee John Conyers not to continue the investigation into the Siegelman case. The report says Conyers said no, and Davis’s office has denied the part about Canary.
Some sources are now saying none of this is true. We will see. It’s hard to know when even Democratic Party officials in Montgomery can’t seem to get Davis to return their phone calls.
Sourcing on these statements is pretty vague -- it doesn't even rise to the level of "a highly reliable/trusted source" so a grain of salt is definitely advisable.
Let's take a look at these smears individually, and I'll share Congressman Davis' comments as they relate to the rumors.
1) "The hottest rumor out of Montgomery right now is that Davis is running for governor not to win it, but to develop name recognition around the state for a future run at the U.S. Senate."
OK, this one is so patently silly I can debunk it without even talking to Davis. He's currently a Congressman in a very safe district -- he can keep that seat as long as he cares to run for re-election. This rumor says Davis is planning to give up his safe seat in Congress in order to run a losing campaign for Governor in 2010, because he secretly hopes to become a U.S. Senator at some point in the future. How stupid is that? Check your calendar -- Jeff Sessions just won re-election and his seat won't come up again until 2014. Anyone who wanted to run against him should have done it this year -- I'm looking at you, Commissioner Sparks. Richard Shelby and his fantastic warchest are up for re-election in 2010 and that seat won't come up again until 2016. So this scenario would have us believe Davis is willing to give up his safe House seat to garner name recognition that he won't be able to use for at least another 4 years! By which time everyone will have forgotten who he is. It would be much simpler, and smarter, for anyone interested in the Senate to have run against Sessions this year when Democratic fortunes were high. It's also simpler to believe that Davis is interested in running for Governor because he wants to be Governor, which has nothing to do with wanting to be a U.S. Senator. In the interest of completeness however, I did ask Congressman Davis about this and here's what he said:
"If I wanted to run against Jeff Sessions I would have done that in 2008 but I made the judgement that frankly 2008 was the wrong year to run against Sessions. ... If Shelby were to announce that he is not running for re-election and if Bob Riley were to announce that he's not running then a number of us would also take a look at the Senate race."
As to the name recognition red herring, Davis said:
"There are some insiders in the Democratic party who don't want me to run for governor. Some of them base that on their belief that a black candidate can't be elected and I can't do anything about people who believe that. I was a black candidate yesterday, I'm one today and I'll be one tomorrow and that's not going to change. If there are people who simply believe that a black can't be elected, they're entitled to that belief and they're entitled to distrust the voters in that way and I can't do anything about that other than prove them wrong. There are other people who don't want to see me run because they believe I would bring too much change to the system. There are some people out there in the entrails of the Democratic party who believe well, my goodness, this guy doesn't even want US Attorneys and judges to be selected by patronage. Who knows what he would do if he were appointing state commissions and state boards and boards trustee. There are some people out there whose attitude is, my goodness, there's no telling, if Davis became governor we may no longer to be able to engage in the kind of cronyism that we've enjoyed for so many years in the state of Alabama. There are always people who don't want change agents to be elected so they're going to try to undercut you and they're going to do it the old fashioned way by suggesting, oh he's a closet Republican, he's not really a Democrat or whatever they can come up with. And as things go these are pretty low level smears in Alabama politics."
Personally, I like reformers and last time I checked Artur Davis was a proponent of reforming the 1901 Alabama Constitution, too. We all know that reform will gore some expensive and powerful oxen big mules -- not going to win him any popularity contests in Montgomery, for sure.
2) "And there’s also an indication that Davis will pick up the support of his old friend Bill Canary at the Business Council of Alabama in the primary."
I have no clue what "indication" that might be. However, Bill Canary has contributed to Artur Davis' campaign in the past and I asked Davis if he would hope for or accept support from Bill Canary or the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) for a potential gubernatorial bid.
"Well Bill Canary contributed to, if I'm not mistaken, every Congressional campaign in the state of Alabama. If you look at his contributions I believe that Billy has contributed to literally every single member of Congress in the state and I think that he's done that for pretty much the whole time he's been head of the BCA. I don't believe he has contributed to my campaign since I raised allegations of selective prosecution, or more accurately political interference, with the Siegelman case. I believe his last contribution actually came in early '07 well in the middle of '07 the allegations were raised around Siegelman and anyone who's read my comments on this matter ... the position I've taken is opposite the interest of Billy Canary. Anyone who raises the question of him making contributions between 2003 and 2007 should notice the obvious that despite those contributions I've taken positions which are the opposite of his interests and the opposite of his wife's interest. ... I know that most people are accustomed to politicians simply following the dictates of people who write checks to them. That's not my history and anyone who looks at my voting record knows that there's been a number of instances when I've taken positions at odds with people who write checks to my campaign. And this would be a clear cut example of that.
I would be very surprised if the BCA supported a candidate for governor who is pro-union. The BCA has made it very clear that one of their major priorities is the defeat of card check next year. I'm a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act. I voted for it last year. I will vote for it again. It will pass the House again. I hope it will pass the Senate. I know that President Obama will sign it into law. The BCA and frankly a significant number of the business community in Alabama have made it clear this is their number one issue They believe, mistakenly, that our economic growth is tied to the non-union status of many companies in this state.
I happen to think you can have unions and economic growth at the same time. We did from 1947 to 1973 when we had the greatest wage growth and the greatest productivity surge and the highest level of unionization in the history of the American economy. We had all three of those at the same time. Greatest productivity surge, greatest wage growth and highest level of union activity. And we did it for most of that time with very low inflation. So I think unions are helpful and I support the right of unions to organize and I support the Employee Free Choice Act. So it is inconceivable to me that I would get the support of an organization which is strongly opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act. I'm not focussed on any endorsements in the governor's race in 2009 and 2010, either in the Democratic party or the Republican party. I'm focussed on getting support from voters and having an announcement to make early next year on this. My focus in the governor's campaign will be on voters. It will not be on interest groups in either party."
The fact checkers among us will want to check out this list of Bill Canary's donations, courtesy of Opensecrets.org. He does indeed give to everyone and his last contribution to Davis was $500 on March 30, 2007. You may recall that on July 17, 2007 Davis co-signed a letter "to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asking him to provide documents and information about several prominent prosecutions and convictions of Democratic officials or operatives across the country" including that of Don Siegelman. This interchange between Davis and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is from a mid-2007 hearing on selective prosecution.
There's no way you can say Artur Davis has been shy about shining a light on the selective prosecution issue at the DoJ, or about putting forward Don Siegelman's case as a possible example of selective prosecution.
3) "There appears to be a cynical strategy afoot to get a black man on the Democratic ticket so a Republican victory in the general election would be a virtual certainty."
All I can say is, Alabama Republicans had better be careful what they wish for if this is their "cynical strategy" to win in 2010. I think the same rationale was employed as an ironclad reason Democrats shouldn't nominate Barack Obama -- no chance a black man could win. Anyone remember how that turned out? Oh yeah, he's the President-elect. Sweet.
For those of you who believe it still can't happen in Alabama I would call your attention to this Capitol Survey Research poll showing Davis looking very strong against any of the likely Republican contenders. As the Congressman said, "I was a black candidate yesterday, I'm one today and I'll be one tomorrow and that's not going to change" so there's not much he can do about these conspiracy theories.
4) "Inside Alabama Politics, the political newsletter out of Mobile, is now reporting that Davis is suggesting that Laura (sic) Canary keep her job as U.S. attorney in Montgomery, and that Davis has urged House Judiciary Committee John Conyers not to continue the investigation into the Siegelman case. The report says Conyers said no, and Davis’s office has denied the part about Canary."
Artur Davis had a lot to say about this one and I'll just pass it on directly:
"I have made it very clear that I expect that the US Attorneys will be replaced across the country. That's normally what happens in every regime change ... when we move from a Democrat to a Republican. I certainly have not disussed the subject with the President-elect or his team and I've not seen them speak to the issue directly. But I have certainly said that I expect there to be replacements of the US Attorneys -- that's been implicit in all the comments I've made about what the process should be for evaluating US Attorneys and the District Judgeship nomines. So I'm anticipating that there will be a routine replacement in the Middle District, the Northern District and the Southern District. I think even Alice Martin has said she expects to be replaced, as a matter of routine with the new administration coming in. The notion that I would somehow advocate for one of the Republican US Attorneys remaining ... first of all that's transparently ridiculous in the context of the Middle District whan I have been openly critical of the way that office handled the prosecution of Don Siegelman.
It would be nonsensical for me to openly criticize the way that office handled the prosecution of Don Siegelman, for me to suggest that the prosecution was overzealous in some ways, and for me to suggest that there is strong evidence that politics influenced and affected the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman and then to turn around and say, by the way we should keep the US Attorney in place in that office . I mean that would be transparently ridiculous and transparently hypocritical. For someone to suggest that I would do something that dumb, that is clearly some kind of a political smear that I think some people are spreading.
There are some people who have a vested interest in status quo politics and unfortunately some of them in the Democratic party too, they're not all Republicans. There are some people who appear to be threatened by the idea of former judges and law school deans evaluating the merits of potential US attorney candidates and judicial candidates. And I'm not sure why they're threatened by it. I'm sure some of them have buddies or cronies they want to see in these positions who they know wouldn't fare well in that process. And I think some of them frankly view these positions as being patronage positions. Well, I candidly do not view US Attorneys and federal judgeships as being patronage positions. They're positions that will and should go to Democrats now that we have a Democratic president, but I don't view them as patronage positions. Patronage positions are those who frankly go to people who have been active in the political process, who have a demonstrated political history and that demonstrated political history is sometimes rewarded through appointments. Well, when you're talking about US Attorneys and judges, those are far more significant positions. ... We're talking about people who, in the case of judges, have lifetime appointments, in the case of US Attorneys, we're talking about people who are not subject to elections, who have enormous leeway and discretion to investigate, to bring charges to make decisons on the disposition of cases. It's one of the most awesome non-warmaking powers that any government official has.
I believe that this whole rumor about the US Attorney's position in Montgomery is frankly an effort to undercut my postion. I think it's an effort to suggest that I have some motive for opposing the process that [Joe] Turnham has put in place or attempted to put in place, more accurately, and I think that people should see that for what it is. People should see that as an effort to undercut my support of a more merit-based process. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people who are insiders realize that they can't win that argument. They can't very well in the court of public opinion say, well here's why we ought to have a non-merit-based process for selecting judges and US Attorneys. Most people favor a merit-based process so they figure they have to find some way to make a personal attack on me and undercut my position and make it sound as if I have some hidden agenda or hidden motive . That's unfortunate. If you believe in your position and your position has merit you should be willing to defend it in the light of day and not depend on anonymous operatives on the blogosphere."
Mooncat: Just to be clear, you have not urged anyone to keep on any of the current US Attorneys in Alabama?
"Of course not. A, I've had no conversation with anyone about it to urge anyone but I certainly would not urge anyone to maintain the US Attorneys. Obviously there's a significant cloud over the US Atorney's office in Montgomery and its handling of the Siegelman case. That cloud continues to the present. When you have evidence that a member of the jury is attempting to communicate with the prosecution during the trial, the prosecution's obligation should have been to disclose that to the judge and to disclose it to the defense team. Not to send out emails joking about how cute it was. That's an egregious breach of the standard that a prosecution team owes the government. Certainly, it's impossible to know from the emails the full extent of whether Leura Canary retained any interest in the case. I understand recusal to mean that you are not involved in any way shape or form with the matter from which you've recused yourself. If you're recused then you have nothing to do with it. ... Those are things the Department of Justice should examine. The Office of Professional Responsibility should examine it. That should be ongoing. That should be happening now instead of waiting for a new administration.
For me to suggest that the US Attorney whose office has been the subject of that kind of cloud should remain in office would be a completely noncredible suggestion to make and completely at odds with everything that I've said. That's why I said it's such a transparently ridiculous political rumor that you have no choice but to question the motive of the people who are spreading it."
Mooncat: What do you think needs to happen with the Siegelman case with the selective prosecution hearings under the new administration? Is there going to be a need for that to continue or do you think the new AG is going to clean house, so to speak?
"I think that's a decision that John Conyers has to make in conjunction with the new Attorney General whom I expect is Eric Holder based on news reports. Eric Holder -- you couldn't ask for a more experienced Attorney General. He was tthe US Attorney in Washington DC. He was the number two person in the Department of Justice. He was very intimately involved with selecting US Attorneys in the 1990's and I'm certain he has strong opinions about this process. ... I think that he and John Conyers will sit down and hopefully make some judgement of where they think these lingering allegations of selective prosecution should go.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that for a year and a half at my urging, in part, the House Judiciary Committee has been involved with a very aggressive investigation of selective prosecution. I urged that and I urged it from its early days because it's not simply the Siegelman case but a number of other cases around the country where there have been allegations made that there was political pressure brought to bear on US Attorneys and that some of those US Attorneys lost their jobs if they didn't comply with the pressure. There have been ongoing investigations by the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of Inspector General, which are two different things. And I'm anticipating those investigations will be released. We have already received the one report from the Office of Inspector General that .. some US Attorneys were fired for political purposes.
Not enough attention was given that by news organizations like the Birmingham News which are biased in this matter, in my opinion, but the report was still released. I believe that before the Mukasey department leaves office that there will hopefully be a release of certain investigations around political interference with the Siegelman case. I think that's appropriate. Now once that report is released an evaluation has to be made by the new Attorney General what to do with it. Obviously if the US Attorneys are no longer in office that means they are no longer subject to professional discipline by the Department of Justice. The new Attorney General will have to make an evaluation of whether he thinks crimes were committed, or obstruction of justice was committed or whether he simply takes the opinion that the cases were not properly brought.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments next week, or two weeks from now, on Don Siegelman's case. And the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will issue a judgement I'm sure sometime early next year."
So Davis hasn't asked anyone to hang on to Leura Canary or any of the other US Attorneys and it doesn't appear that he has any interest in reining in any investigations into selective prosecution at the DoJ.
5) "Some sources are now saying none of this is true. We will see. It’s hard to know when even Democratic Party officials in Montgomery can’t seem to get Davis to return their phone calls."
As to the first part, I see no indication that any of these rumors are true and I can only speculate on the motivation of those who promulgate them. Artur Davis said:
"People use the blogosphere to pass on information that is completely false, either personal or political. That's unfortunate. This is one of the most transparently ridiculous political rumors I've seen in a while."
As to the second part, I feel kind of special because Left in Alabama front pagers have had no difficulty whatsoever getting Congressmen Davis' office to return our phone calls and emails. They read our blog, too.