by Marie Orndorff Troyan–Birmingham News
Washington — As Artur Davis takes the national stage tonight with his new political friends at the Republican National Convention, his old Democratic friends in Alabama still are reeling from the defection.
“He’s not a man of principle, he’s really a man of self,” Peggy Wallace Kennedy said Monday. Her public endorsement of Davis’ run for governor two years ago was a rare moment of political activism from Kennedy. The daughter of former Gov. George Wallace is famously shy when it comes to politics.
“You put that kind of belief in somebody … and then all of a sudden it’s just over,” she said. “I thought I knew what was in his heart.”
Kennedy spoke of her personal disappointment, especially because she hoped and believed Davis was going to become Alabama’s first black governor. Her husband, Mark, now the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, more bluntly called Davis a “sore loser” when Republicans revealed that Davis would be a headline speaker at their nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.
Davis represented Alabama’s 7th Congressional District for eight years as a Democrat, lost the 2010 party nomination for governor, announced three months ago that he was a Republican, and has been campaigning for Mitt Romney ever since. Republicans are celebrating the conversion — Davis seconded President Barack Obama’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention four years ago — as a compelling storyline to win over more Obama voters.
He is one of five speakers scheduled to address the convention between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. tonight.
Davis had a testy relationship with the hierarchy of the Alabama Democratic Party, even as a congressman, but they did not imagine he would join the other team so quickly and prominently.
Jere Beasley, the former Democratic lieutenant governor and a prominent trial lawyer in Montgomery, was chairman of Davis’ run for governor two years ago.
“It kind of bothers me when you turn on your friends, like the president,” Beasley said.
Davis and Obama knew each other at Harvard; Davis helped lead Obama’s campaign in Alabama; and Obama’s administration considered Davis for a cabinet level appointment in 2009.
Beasley, an Obama supporter, said he doesn’t think Davis’ speech at the GOP convention is a significant event.
“It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but he probably thinks it does,” said Beasley.
U.W. Clemon, Alabama’s first black federal judge who now is in private practice in Birmingham, rescinded his endorsement of Davis’ campaign after Davis voted against Obama’s health care overhaul bill in Congress. The vote shocked residents in Davis’ predominantly black district, where Obama was intensely popular.
“He’s a very talented young man and I thought he could be very helpful in maintaining the bridges like those over which he crossed to get where he did,” Clemon said Monday. “But this is very disappointing. I never imagined it would come to this.”
Clemon thought Davis’ speech would hinder, not help, the Republican Party’s outreach to black voters.
“To the extent Republicans want to further turn off the black vote, they will do so by his appearance,” Clemon said.
Lilly Ledbetter of Jacksonville, a national spokeswoman for protecting women from discrimination in the workplace and a regular speaker at Obama campaign events, had endorsed Davis’ primary run, too.
“I am surprised and very disappointed,” said Ledbetter, an author and scheduled speaker at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. “I was not too disappointed by him leaving Alabama, but switching parties and standing up for Romney and especially for talking against the president, I’m real disappointed.”
“And if I meet him somewhere, I will tell him exactly what I just told you,” Ledbetter said.
Davis, in an interview on the SiriusXM Satellite Radio P.O.T.U.S. channel last week, said his convention speech would not mention race. He also said that his temporary teaching assignment at Harvard has ended, and he is a full-time speaker now, sometimes at Romney events and sometimes his own events.
To the Huffington Post, he dismissed criticism from Democrats. “More amusing are the individuals who were political antagonists who dress themselves up as former friends to get their name in the paper,” Davis said. “I also appreciate the many Democrats who tell me privately that they are embarrassed by the party’s attacks and sense a personal bitterness in the attackers.”
The Democratic National Committee produced a nearly two-minute video using a clip of Davis’ pro-Obama speech to the Democrats four years ago and updated it with their list of Obama’s first-term accomplishments. The title of the video: “For Artur Davis, It’s All About Artur Davis.”