NASE News

Demopolis, Alabama

Rep. Artur Davis

Demopolis, a small city of 7,580 approximately two hours south of Birmingham, has a long history dating back to the early 1800’s. During my recent visit it was nice to see that the town fathers have preserved many of the city’s historic sites. While experiencing a slice of America’s past was certainly enjoyable my chief goal was to find out about the issues facing this corner of Alabama. Rep. Artur Davis, Democratic Congressman for the 7th District of Alabama, hosted a town hall meeting at the Demopolis Civic Center during my stay which gave me an inside view of the concerns of Demopolis residents. As a young Congressman in his third term, Rep. Davis was recently appointed to the important House Committee on Ways & Means which handles all tax issues in Congress.

Before delving into the problems discussed at this well-attended town hall, it is important to note that Demopolis along with the rest of the district represented by Congressman Davis and much of Alabama are part of region in the Southern United States known as the Black Belt. The name originally referred to the type of soil in this territory but today, it unfortunately has a more unfavorable meaning. This area of our country includes the poorest counties in all of America plagued with high unemployment rates, deficient education programs, and lack of access to both medical care and suitable housing; to list just a few of the challenges facing the Black Belt region. Thus, Rep. Davis and the other Members of the Alabama Congressional Delegation have a lot on their plate as they work to improve our nation and most especially, their state and districts which are facing tough times.

First up at this town hall was the subject that is on everyone’s mind these days: high gas prices. Rep. Davis was forthright in his response to his constituents’ concerns, indicating that there was nothing that the federal government could do that would bring gas prices down today or tomorrow because this energy crisis did not occur overnight. He pointed out that a big question we need to answer is why the price of oil has been steadily rising despite no major disruption of supply any where in the world. He proposed a few steps to address our energy issues:

  • We must end our dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. should increase drilling here at home in our oil-rich areas such as Alaska;
  • We must transition to alternative sources of energy (i.e. solar, nuclear power); 
  • We need to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars, and; 
  • The federal government must stop providing over $14 billion dollars in tax breaks to the major oil companies which have been experiencing windfall profits.

Overall, Rep. Davis expressed that we as a nation must push forward more environmentally sound policy. If the United States does not lead in this realm, then we cannot expect other nations to follow.

Intrigued by his frank remarks, I posed a question to the Congressman about health coverage and mentioned that many reform proposals sprouting up recently have included a mandate requiring either all individuals to purchase health coverage or all businesses to provide coverage to their employees. If coverage was not purchased, either the individual or business would be faced with fines. The NASE does not support the use of mandates as a means to increase the numbers of those with health coverage. We feel that the issue is affordability therefore requiring individuals or businesses to buy health insurance won’t address the issue of high costs.

While Rep. Davis does not support a mandate on individuals, he does feel that a mandate on employers would assist in minimizing the number of uninsured. He indicated that the government should assist businesses by giving them tax breaks to help them afford coverage and if the business could not afford coverage even with financial assistance, the federal government should step in and provide their employees access to health care. In terms of the tax treatment of health insurance, Rep. Davis does not support the idea of a standard health deduction for all but he was open to giving the self-employed tax equality as long as it was not at the expense of the employed.

WATCH VIDEO:
Rep. Artur Davis

Another hot-button issue of interest to NASE members was raised during this forum. The state of our Social Security was of particular concern of Demopolis residents. Rep. Davis is clear that this is an issue we must address yet he commented that we must be sure that our desire to fix Social Security for the long-term does not hurt the system in the short-term. To watch and listen to what the Congressman had to say first hand, please view our video.

Final Thoughts
It was not hard to figure out based on the comments at this event that Rep. Davis is seen as a rising star in his state of Alabama by his constituents and his colleagues in state and local government. In fact, an attendee outright asked Representative Davis about his interest in running for the Governorship of Alabama and based on the his response, Demopolis residents and those of the 7th District of Alabama may be in need of a new Congressman in 2010.

For more information on small business health policy, please visit NASE’s advocacy website. Stay tuned for our next stop on the trail!