WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said his decision not to run for governor stemmed solely from his surprise appointment to the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
"If I had stayed on Financial Services or Agriculture," Rep. Davis said, referring to his previous committee assignments, "you would not have had an announcement that I am not running. You probably would have heard from me on March 31 that I am running for governor."
Rep. Davis, who would have been the presumptive Democratic frontrunner in the 2010 gubernatorial race, said his decision not to run had nothing to do with his opposition to the election of Chip Forrester as Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, as some political observers have speculated.
Rep. Davis was among several prominent Tennessee Democrats, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, who declined to support Mr. Forrester's bid to head the state party, preferring Charles Robert Bone, whom backers said had a stronger fundraising background.
Rep. Davis made his announcement that he would not be running for governor just days after Mr. Forrester's selection in January.
But in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Rep. Davis said the opportunity to serve on one of the most prominent congressional committees was too good to pass up.
He said he began jockeying for the committee spot after Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, an Appropriations member who represented Huntsville and Northern Alabama, announced his retirement last year. The Appropriations Committee is responsible for allocating federal funds for projects and programs.
He said former Rep. Cramer had advocated for many causes in the southern part of Rep. Davis's rural Middle Tennessee district, while Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., another Appropriations member, helped with the northeastern area of his district around Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
"Bud Cramer had been such a champion," Rep. Davis said. "He helped us with Arnold Air Force Base (near Tullahoma) as an appropriator. He had been a champion of the (NASA) Marshall Space (Flight Center) in Huntsville, where 7,000 people in my district drive down to Huntsville to work every day. So I started the process immediately when he announced he wasn't going to run again."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said having Rep. Davis on the House panel will help the Tennessee delegation advocate for state causes, especially with Rep. Wamp, who is running for governor, leaving Congress in 2010.
"It will strengthen Tennessee's position when discussion of federal dollars come up," Sen. Alexander said. "It's a great compliment to him to be selected. Also, it will be helpful for Zach Wamp and for me. We both work easily with Lincoln."
In landing a seat on the committee, Rep. Davis, who has served in Congress since 2003, beat out about two dozen other Democrats, many of them much more senior, who were vying for the spot.
"We really had not had a rural legislator (on the committee) for a long time," he said. "I used that strategy by saying it's important to have one and, much to my surprise, not only did I get on this, but so did John Salazar (D-Colo.).
"(House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi used the two seats she had (open) and gave it to the two most conservative Democrats."