Dr. Brian Davis has a professional resume that just doesn’t quit.
There’s the degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois and the work in nuclear power plant design and radioactive waste management. There are the master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There’s the medical degree from the University of Illinois and the oncology practice at the Mayo Clinic.
Davis jokes that when his parents encouraged him to get a college education, he went a bit overboard. But the Illinois native also notes the work he did to earn money for college, including jobs as a furniture mover and janitor.
While Davis believes his background would be useful as the nation faces important energy and health-care decisions, he hasn’t made his biography a central part of his campaign. There is one skill he’s developed as a specialist in cancer treatment he believes would be helpful on a broader level if he’s elected.
He talks of the many times he’s gone into a room where a cancer patient and family members are waiting, tries to put them at ease and then discusses the sometimes tough choices they face.
“It does put things in perspective and also puts me in a position where I need to explain difficult things,” Davis said. “And I think when you’re running for office, you are put in a position where you have to answer a lot of questions in front of a lot of people.”
New to politics
Davis’ political experience is as shallow as his educational and professional background is deep.
A resident of Minnesota for a dozen years, he first became active in Republican politics when he began thinking of running against Walz. Generally pleased with the representation he’d received from Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht (who Walz defeated, ending a 12-year-run in the House), Davis didn’t like the direction the new Democratic majority was headed in 2007.
Despite his inexperience, Davis knocked off two veteran Republican state lawmakers in the GOP endorsement process and in the September primary election. He raised more than $1 million in campaign donations, although more than $300,000 was in the form of loans and contributions he made personally.
Described as “a brilliant guy” who is “also deeply conservative” by John Hinderaker, one of the founders of the influential conservative Web log Power Line, Davis doesn’t comment on the “brilliant” part but agrees with the description of his political philosophy.
He’s an opponent of abortion and gay marriage, is doubtful that fossil fuel consumption is the primary reason for global climate change and opposes embryonic stem cell research. He wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, would like to eliminate the estate tax and would be interested in studying a nationwide sales tax as a replacement for income taxes.
Davis doesn’t expect a majority of voters in the 1st District agree with him on all of those stances, but he’s confident he can win the race.
“Minnesota is a great place, and a lot of people look at the candidates for who they are,” he said. “And they may not agree with them on every issue, but they feel they can trust that person to be straight with them.”
A new direction
With too few exceptions, Walz has been a loyal supporter of the Democratic leadership of the House, Davis said.
“What we were told in 2006 is that we were going to see an independent voice. We haven’t seen that from Mr. Walz.”
Walz bucked his leadership on gun issues, the No Child Left Behind education plan and on the $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry — but not much else, Davis said.
“And when it comes to the votes on Iraq, he hasn’t always been there — I would argue — in terms of supporting the mission.”
Much of Davis’ campaign has centered on oil drilling. Davis supports virtually unlimited access for the oil companies to federal waters and lands, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He condemns Walz for initially opposing expanded offshore drilling, although Walz later joined a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who developed a compromise plan that received 179 Republican votes (about 90 percent of all Republicans) in the House earlier this fall.
But the delay was a costly one, Davis said.
“That preceded our financial crisis, and the two are very much related,” he said. “I think it’s difficult to deny that that precipitated our financial crisis. And that’s where we differ.”
Davis adds that the bursting of the housing bubble and the reckless lending practices of financial institutions also played a role.
The Walz campaign and the Democratic Party have criticized Davis’ positions on Social Security and taxes, in both cases not telling the complete story.
Because Davis would consider partial privatization of Social Security, a Walz ad has said Davis supports “cutting guaranteed benefits.” The basis of the accusation is that Davis would undermine the financial viability of the system because younger workers would be able to divert money to private accounts.
Davis notes the long-term solvency of the Social Security system is in doubt even if no changes are made and that Walz is offering no specifics on how he would fix the problem.
Another criticism — this one from the DFL Party — suggests Davis wants to institute a 23 percent nationwide sales tax. Davis said the flier fails to mention he only supports studying the idea of a flat tax and that it would be intended as a replacement of — not in addition to — existing federal taxes.
He also disputes suggestions the Bush tax cuts favor the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
“That is not true,” Davis said. “And there’s a lot of rhetoric geared toward the politics of envy and class warfare.”
Davis doesn’t give a direct answer when asked if he supports the current progressive income tax, which taxes higher income at higher rates: “I don’t like that we have a 67,000-page tax code. It’s a monstrosity.”
He also said he’s opposed on principle to the numerous tax credits available to individuals and businesses, something he considers government micro-managing of the economy.
Davis also doesn’t say whether he would support the pay-as-you-go budget rules — a strategy to reduce budget deficits by requiring that any new spending increases or tax cuts be offset with spending cuts or tax increases in other parts of the budget: “That’s one strategy.”
Davis released internal polling more than a month ago that showed he’d closed the gap with Walz — but that it was still 18 percentage points. He hasn’t released any polling results since.
“It’s always hard to tell,” he said of the campaign. “But we like the way things are going.”
Davis has talked often on the campaign trail about energy issues, particularly boosting the nation’s domestic energy production. Rather than being a campaign strategy aimed at fed-up motorists, he said it’s an issue he believes is the key to everything from joblessness to the federal deficits.
The only major factor that is absent today but was present during the boom times of the 1990s is cheap oil, Davis said.
“If we could get to the point where we get energy prices down, I think you’d see inflation go down, you’d see unemployment go down, you’d see tax receipts go up.”
If he can pull off a come-from-behind victory next week, Davis promises to work on that issue and more the next two years.
“Right now, we have problems with taxes, our economy, energy and health care,” Davis said. “And we’ve got somebody who’s going to go there and offer honest solutions and try to get something done.”
Dr. Brian Davis has a professional resume that just doesn’t quit.
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