Davis: We should change things

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 23, 2004

Congressman Artur Davis spoke Thursday night to residents of Hale County during a town hall meeting at the county courthouse in Greensboro. He holds such meetings every month in a different county of the Seventh Congressional District.

The congressman had visited the new Safe House Museum in Greensboro before the public meeting. The late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once visited there in 1965 where he was saved from the clutches of the Klu Klux Klan.

“If Dr. King came back today…he would probably find the exact same streets, the exact same neighborhoods, because frankly it hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Davis said. “…Continuity is good sometimes, but the challenge is that frankly we should have changed things.”

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Although born in Montgomery, he described the Black Belt as his second home. Davis wants to make his second home able to sustain itself, “one that will always grow.”

He did not want to make the event a political meeting, but comments he made at times were obviously in response to comments made recently by Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr. who will face Davis in the June 1 Democratic primary. Turner has suggested that Davis has had a lot of meetings but has not brought much funding back to the district.

Approximately $45 million came into the seventh district from the recent Omnibus spending bill. Davis is a member of the House Budget Committee. That bill included $75,000 for a Uniontown community center, $150,000 for sewer improvements in Wilcox County, $90,000 for Pennington and $200,000 for Shelton State Community College.

“It’s easy for folks who are not in Washington and don’t know the process to say ‘oh, I would have been against a big spending bill.’ That means they would have been against a lot of projects important to your community.”

He would not have been able to save funding for historic black colleges without being able to work with Republican lawmakers.

Early in his time in office, Davis also had to speak to the assistant Secretary of Commerce about the unfair competition of Vietnamese imports that was hurting Hale and Greene County catfish farmers. The department was considering not supporting a ban against Vietnamese undercutting American catfish farmers. If his call had any impact, Davis was proud.

“If you want to get something done as opposed to talking loud and drawing a crowd, you’ve got to have some relationships.”

“…We spend more time in the Black Belt than the individual that I replaced spent in the entire 11 years he (Earl Hilliard) was in office,” Davis said. “(Constituents said) we haven’t seen him in years….You (people in Greensboro) deserve as much representation no matter what the voting share is as anybody anywhere in the State of Alabama.”

Davis said he asked the people in Perry County about Turner’s accomplishments. “I got very short answers,” the congressman said. “You look at how people have used the position. If you can’t work miracles in Perry County, you can’t work miracles in Washington.

A member of Congress doesn’t create jobs. A congressman can “advocate and do the most he or she can to bring resources in to the district and do creative things like the Initiative 7 project,” he said.

Davis has not officially declared for reelection, however, “we fell very good about this election year….The people in Perry County know who has provided leadership.”

Davis believes town hall meetings such as the one Thursday in Greensboro are very effective. “We had a dialog with people with different viewpoints,” he said. “…We didn’t have any restraining orders put on anybody tonight,” eluding to trouble commissioner Turner has had with his critics in Perry County. “We didn’t have any fights break out….You can do this job without embarrassing people you represent.”

Turner has criticized Davis for not supporting the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq reconstruction, saying the congressman voted against the troops. “I don’t think we had a good accounting of how the first $61 billion (an earlier appropriation) was spent….I heard too many stories of troops not having equipment right after we gave them the $61 billion.

“…I believe that – given the size of the deficit – we needed to pay for the $87 billion by suspending the tax cuts for the top wage earners,” Davis said. “The administration would not even consider that. If you propose new spending in Washington you’ve got to have an offset.

“…If the war is important enough to engage 574 men and women to sacrifice their lives, we can ask the top wage earners to sacrifice their tax cut.”

Davis attended the send-off for National Guard troops from Demopolis in January 2003 and numerous other events. “Anybody who suggests that I don’t support the troops, frankly knows so little about the process that I think it’s their own ignorance that they’re portraying.”

The current U.S. Budget deficit is $521 billion, he said, and could go to $600 billion. President Bush’s requested budget for 2005 is $3 trillion. The deficit is a result of the economic downturn, military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Davis’ opinion, the president’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Once in Congress, Davis voted against the 2003 cuts.

“Cutting taxes is another form of spending for this economy,” he told the audience in Greensboro, “and it has contributed to our deficit.” The economy has swung from $122 billion in surplus to $521 billion in deficit in three years, he said. The size and scope of these tax cuts will have to be rethought, Davis said.

The congressman expressed concern that cuts in rural housing, rural healthcare, jobs training and Head Start will come in the president’s 2005 budget.

“The president proposes almost no new money for the Delta Regional Authority,” which helped fund the new High Ed Center in Demopolis. “It is not a good budget for the Seventh District of Alabama,” he said.

One Hale County resident asked the congressman what could be done about jobs moving overseas. Davis has meet recently with business leaders who are trying to get technical jobs that would otherwise be outsourced to other countries moved to the Black Belt.

“People in Greene County and Hale County can do anything that’s done in India or China,” he said. “These are frankly not hard or complicated jobs. If this program gets off the ground and we can get IBM to make the commitment…we will be creating jobs in the State of Alabama.”

He was asked about development talks between officials in Mississippi and Alabama. “I’m not optimistic,” Davis said concerning an industrial compact between the two states. “Court cases in this country say Mississippi and Alabama can’t legislate for each other….Unless you get some kind of a joint federally approved compact, it’s difficult to divvy up the resources.” Davis said he hopes the two states continue the conversation.

Davis and Mississippi congressman Chip Pickering have discussed ways to help each other’s district.

He decried the lack of funding for the federal “No Child Left Behind” education program. Approximately $29 million was intended for the program, Davis said, and the Congress has not spent near that amount. The president actually cut out 47 programs within the program last year.

The legislation needs to be changed “root and branch,” he said.

He also was concerned about public schools that are declared to be “failing” if there are not enough qualified teachers or test scores are not adequate. Parents are invited to move their children from such a failing school.

“What do you do when a school fails? For the federal government of this country to have the nerve to label a school as failing and then just let it sit there and invite people to leave it and let it die on the vine, that’s wrong. It’s politically wrong, and it’s morally wrong.

“…I have been a consistant, strong, determined advocate for more funding for education,” Davis said. “Anybody who tells you otherwise has one of two problems: either they so completely don’t understand the system…or they’re counting on you to not understand it so they can confuse you.”