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Davis begins race early sprint, marathon or otherwise

Although the afternoon is drawing to a close, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis still looks remarkably fresh for someone whose day started more than eight hours ago and won’t be finished for another three or four or so.

Davis was in Selma Monday for a whirlwind of appointments and activities and general elbow-rubbing with some of the people who helped him knock his predecessor, Earl Hilliard, from his five-term throne in the 7th District.

The day started with Davis addressing a breakfast of business leaders in Montgomery. From there he met with staffers and drove to Selma, where he opened a health fair sponsored by his office. After pumping a few more hands, it was on to address a luncheon at the Selma Rotary Club.

Much of the afternoon has been spent visiting classrooms at Meadowview and Kingston Elementary schools and meeting with media types.

Still ahead is one of the monthly town hall meetings Davis holds in various locations around his district.

Asked if he considers himself to be in a sprint or a marathon, Davis merely shrugs. &uot;I believe it’s what people expect of me,&uot; he says.

His predecessor apparently felt differently about the matter, rarely visiting some of the more remote corners of the 7th District.

By contrast, Davis has opened five offices in the Black Belt alone &045; including one in Selma. He is fond of pointing out that 65 percent of his constituents now live within 20 miles of one of those offices.

Davis’ activity in the hallowed halls of Congress has been no less frenetic. He has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 130 bills since taking office in January.

Davis openly supported the recently defeated tax reform package known as Amendment One. While he recognizes that plan was out of sync with Alabama voters, he says he is &uot;deeply troubled&uot; at some of the proposed budget cuts intended to make up the expected $675 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.

He reels off a list of various agencies and programs in line for budget cuts &045; UAB Children’s Hospital, $800,000; Tuskegee University, $5 million; the minority business program at UAB; the Rural Health Initiative; and on and on.

He points to a few of his successes as a freshman congressman, such as securing an additional $3.5 million in funding for the state’s historically black colleges. Now, proposed budget cuts could wipe that additional funding &045; and more &045; out.

Davis, a Democrat, proposed the Southern Empowerment Economic Development, or SEED, program at the same time the Republican administration was pushing for cutbacks in similar programs.

He points to other successes: $500,000 for a youth development center to be located in Selma, and $300,000 for improving Craig Airfield. The existence of the facilities at Craig played an important role in the recent decision by Michigan-based Lear Corporation to locate two tier-two suppliers to the Hyundai automotive manufacturing plant scheduled to open in 2005.

Davis glances discreetly at the time. There’s a town hall meeting still to go. The freshman congressman’s race for today &045; marathon? sprint? &045; is not yet run.