Artur Davis: Why I Left the Democratic Party

In Part 1 of our interview, the newly minted Republican addresses speculation on his big switch.

Artur Davis in 2008 (Ron Sachs/CNP)
Artur Davis in 2008 (Ron Sachs/CNP)

(The Root) — It didn’t exactly come as a shock last week when Artur Davis announced his switch to the Republican Party. Although the former U.S. congressman from Alabama served as a top surrogate to Barack Obama in 2008 and was once widely anticipated to become a Democratic power player, he frequently walked out of step with fellow Democrats in the House. He was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the Affordable Care Act, for example, as well as the 2007 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

By the time Davis left his seat in Congress in 2010 to run for governor of Alabama — a bid in which he suffered a crushing Democratic-primary defeat — he’d stepped up his criticism of the Obama administration. However, it wasn’t until last month that he finally made the decision to switch parties. “At the end of the day, being in the Republican Party feels like a more comfortable ideological home for me,” Davis told The Root in an interview. In Part 1 of that exchange, he also explained his political evolution and why, despite sharp ideological differences with Democrats, it was hard to say goodbye.

The Root: I understand that this was a decision you made cumulatively over time, not based on one policy issue. But was there a breaking point, or moment of clarity, that motivated your switch to the Republican Party?

Artur Davis: Over the last two years — not being in elective office, and not being a candidate for elective office — I’ve had a chance to be a spectator. When you’re a spectator, you can listen to what the sides are saying and weigh the arguments.

I concluded over that two-year period that the things Democrats were saying don’t match what I think and what I feel. The things that Republicans were saying come closer to matching what I think and feel. It doesn’t mean that either party is a perfect fit. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some positions I hold that would be compatible with either party.

TR: You wrote that the Democratic Party has changed, that “this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party.” What do you mean?

AD: When I got involved in politics in the late 1990s, Bill Clinton was the president of the United States, and the Democratic Party was open to all kinds of points of view. There were robust, interesting debates in the party about the future of Social Security, welfare reform, crime policy, health care policy, tax and budgetary policy. On almost every issue, there were legitimate pools of thought operating within the party, and you could align yourself with any one of those pools of thought.

Fourteen years later, I don’t see a lot of diversity of opinion in the leadership of the Democratic Party. Now, rank-and-file Democratic voters [on the other hand] are all over the place. I know that 25 percent of Democrats still identify themselves as conservatives; 40 percent call themselves moderates. But when it comes to the ranks of elected officials, people who have influence and a voice in the Democratic Party, in my mind the party has moved decisively and strongly to the left.

TR: What are some examples of this Democratic hard-lining that you see?