Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

Most of the readers of this column know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat of the “yellow dog” genus. I would suggest they sit down for what follows.

On January 30, Representative Tom Davis announced that he would retire as the 11th Congressional District’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has served in that position since his election in 1994, having defeated the incumbent Leslie Byrne (D). It has been a remarkable, if relatively short career as these things go.

Before being elected to the House of Representatives, Davis served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; first as the representative of Mason District and then elected county-wide as chairman of the board in 1991.

I cannot say that I have always agreed with his political positions. But I have always admired him for being a great public servant, committed with a reasonable passion to serving his district, state, and nation with care, intelligence and a dogged persistence. I hold him up to my students at George Mason as the ideal of what an elected public servant should and can be – in spite of the fact that he is not a Democrat.

Davis became the chair of the House Committee on Government Reform (now Oversight and Reform) 1997 and served until 2007, when Democrats took over the House of Representatives. I wouldn’t be surprised if the prospect that Democrats will most likely control the House in increasing numbers was a major factor in his decision. Davis likes to be in control –don’t we all? And in spite of the fact that he works well and usually harmoniously with members across the aisle, that is not the same thing as being boss.

Another factor in his decision was most likely the indications that his congressional district is moving into the Democratic camp, reflected by the defeat of his wife, State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis. His race was likely going to be a hard one, though I personally believed he would have won.

I had relatively frequent contact with Davis and his staff as a lobbyist for the direct mail industry, as the committee had jurisdiction over some of our major issues. We may not have always agreed, but he was always receptive to our arguments and constructive in working out solutions. This approach to legislative issues was a hallmark of his career.

One of his most significant recent votes was for the resolution commending the LSU Tigers for winning the NCAA national football championship last month. Can’t beat that!

The District of Columbia will particularly regret his decision to retire. After years of not so benign neglect by key members of Congress, Davis has worked positively for numerous District causes including voting rights.

Davis was seriously considering a race for the U.S. Senate to take the seat of retiring Senator John Warner. The Republican Party nipped this in the bud by choosing to nominate by convention rather than a primary. The Virginia Republican establishment, which would control a convention, was highly unlikely to nominate Davis – good news for the likely Democratic nominee Mark Warner since Davis would have been the strongest opponent to Mark Warner.

I would like to say that we will miss Tom Davis, but I think not. There is no way he is going to fade away, to use General MacArthur’s famous valedictory phrase. He is going to around for a long time to come, and perhaps once again in elective office. He has had a good run, but there is a lot more left.