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Rep. Davis all but announces for Alabama governor

MONTGOMERY — U.S. Rep. Artur Davis visited the state Capitol on Wednesday to talk about job creation, and he made it clear he wants the top job in the Capitol.

The Democratic congressman from Birmingham has been eyeing the 2010 governor’s race while serving as Barack Obama’s Alabama campaign chairman. Those plans became firmer when Obama did not pick Davis to become secretary of education.

On Wednesday, he outlined a scenario for the governor’s race.

“I think there are going to be eight or nine of us who are going to be getting in the governor’s race. And I think the eight or nine of us will be making announcements between January and March,” he told reporters.

As for himself, he said, “I am going to save the formal announcement until early February.”

Davis said he will follow the announcement with a tour of the state.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley has served two terms and can’t run again in 2010. No Democrat has formally announced a candidacy, but Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, and House Speaker Seth Hammett have said they are considering it.

Before Davis makes an announcement in February, he’s got another big event coming up. On Jan. 1, he will marry Tara Johnson of Montgomery. Davis, 41, said their wedding will be at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery.

Davis grew up in Montgomery, but the city is not in his 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Birmingham to Selma. Davis held his news conference in the Capitol’s Old House Chamber, where the governor often holds official functions, including his annual “State of the State” address to the Legislature.

Davis was joined by officials from west Alabama. They encouraged Congress to pass an economic stimulus package in January that includes an extension of the tax breaks for businesses in the Renewal Community and Empowerment Zone legislation.

The tax breaks, which help businesses that locate in low-income areas, are due to expire at the end of 2009. Davis said they need to be extended quickly because businesses make decisions about new plants or expansions a year in advance.

Jim Hodo, chief operating officer of American Apparel Inc. in Selma, said the clothing company employs about 700 people in poor areas of west Alabama, and the tax breaks were “the tie breaker” in deciding where to locate plants.

Davis also responded to reporters’ questions about other issues, including cutbacks in the state education and General Fund budgets that the governor made Monday due to declining state tax revenue.

Davis tied his answer to the $1.2 billion tax plan that Riley proposed unsuccessfully in 2003, when Alabama was in another economic downturn.

“Governor Riley correctly told us in 2003 that we have long-term problems financing the state of Alabama and meeting our obligations. We had several good years of growth, so we kind of forgot about those problems. But now the growth has gone away. Unemployment is high. We are in recession in Alabama and around the country. And guess what? The things he warned about in 2003 are coming home to roost,” Davis said.

Davis said the state’s economic conditions will force candidates for governor to do more than make promises.

“Everybody who runs for governor in 2009 and 2010 is going to have to talk about how we are going to pay for our programs,” he said.

Davis indicated that for him, that discussion will begin in early February.