Va.’s Davis To Leave Congress at End of Term

The Washington Post - - Front Page - By Amy Gard­ner

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III said yes­ter­day that he will re­tire from Congress at the end of the year, clos­ing a 14-year stint in the House dur­ing which he rose rapidly through the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship ranks and used his clout to cham­pion lo­cal is­sues, in­clud­ing re­viv­ing a nearly bank­rupt Dis­trict and re­build­ing the Spring­field Mix­ing Bowl.

“It’s time for me to take a sab­bat­i­cal,” Davis (R-Va.) said. “I’m not rul­ing out fu­ture pub­lic ser­vice, but it’s time to be re­freshed, to see what it’s like in the private sec­tor. That doesn’t mean I will or won’t come back.”

Davis, 59, whose years in the House were rich with ac­tivism and char­ac­ter­ized by a steady as­cen­sion, spent much of his ca­reer cham­pi­oning the Dis­trict and se­cur­ing money for ma­jor high­way projects, such as the Mix­ing Bowl and the new Woodrow Wil­son Bridge.

While on the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, which he led for a time, Davis es­tab­lished the D.C. Fi­nan­cial Con­trol Board to im­prove the gov­ern-

ment’s fi­nan­cial sol­vency. He pushed through the D.C. Col­lege Ac­cess Act, which al­lows Dis­trict grad­u­ates to qual­ify for in-state tu­ition at all state col­leges. He also steered the na­tion’s first fed­er­ally funded school choice pro­gram. And he cham­pi­oned D.C. vot­ing rights, al­though not suc­cess­fully.

“Tom was like a good neigh­bor who saw that his neigh­bor was be­ing treated un­fairly,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D-D.C.) said of Davis’s lead­er­ship on the vot­ing is­sue. “He took it to the brink, and he worked on it as a pri­or­ity is­sue when most in his party did not agree with that view. That’s the essence of a per­son who has a deep, prin­ci­pled sense of fair play.”

Davis led re­forms of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­cure­ment sys­tem, claim­ing to make it more ef­fi­cient, save tax­payer dol­lars and help a boom­town of high-tech gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors sprout around the Dis­trict. He is cred­ited with help­ing to fuel the pros­per­ity and job growth in North­ern Vir­ginia’s econ­omy in re­cent years, but he has been crit­i­cized for the vol­ume of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions he has taken from de­fense con­trac­tors.

Davis takes credit for se­cur­ing fund­ing for the Wil­son Bridge and clos­ing the Lor­ton Cor­rec­tional Com­plex. Na­tion­ally, he is cred­ited as a past chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee with sav­ing GOP ma­jori­ties in 2000 and 2002, years when pun­dits wrongly pre­dicted Demo­cratic gains.

Davis said the de­ci­sion to re­tire was dif­fi­cult. Even as some me­dia out­lets were re­port­ing this week that he would re­tire, he had not made up his mind, he said. Ul­ti­mately, he and his wife, for­mer Vir­ginia state sen­a­tor Jean­nemarie Devo­lites Davis, de­cided it was time for a rest.

Davis said he has re­ceived sev­eral un­so­licited in­quiries from po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers. He plans to re­main in of­fice through the end of the term and to re­main in the area.

Davis’s de­ci­sion trig­gers a po­ten­tially con­tentious race to re­place him in the 11th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. Democrats Les­lie L. Byrne and Doug Den­neny have an­nounced plans to run, and Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, chair­man of the Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, said he will prob­a­bly jump from the ex­ploratory stage to start a cam­paign in the next week.

Byrne, a for­mer con­gress­woman and state sen­a­tor, and Con­nolly, the front-run­ner in the fi­nan­cial race, will be for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents on is­sues in­clud­ing Iraq war fund­ing, for­eign pol­icy and the Dulles Metro­rail project.

On the Repub­li­can side, three can­di­dates have emerged: Keith Fimian, an Oak­ton busi­ness owner; Steve Hunt, a Fair­fax County School Board mem­ber; and Skip Dale.

Davis said yes­ter­day that the GOP has a chance to hang on to his seat. But re­cent elec­tions make it clear that the dis­trict is lean­ing Demo­cratic, and with­out Davis’s record and name recog­ni­tion, a Repub­li­can will face a dif­fi­cult time.

Davis’s an­nounce­ment yes­ter­day re­ver­ber­ated through Congress, where he be­came the fifth vet­eran House Repub­li­can in the past week to say that he will not seek re­elec­tion this fall. Since los­ing their ma­jor­ity sta­tus af­ter the 2006 elec­tions, House Repub­li­cans have en­dured 28 re­tire­ments or res­ig­na­tion an­nounce­ments, and many have oc­curred in com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts such as Davis’s.

Davis’s ca­reer in Congress ends with a swift­ness that un­der­scores how un­cer­tain po­lit­i­cal life can be. A few months ago, he was viewed as a nat­u­ral con­tender to re­place U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who is also re­tir­ing at the end of the year.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats praised Davis and com­mended his mod­er­ate approach to ex­pand­ing the econ­omy and at­tract­ing trans­porta­tion fund­ing.

For­mer Vir­ginia gov­er­nor Mark R. Warner (D), who is run­ning for the U.S. Se­nate seat that Davis chose not to seek this year, said: “Tom Davis is a friend, and he’s been a solid part­ner, reach­ing across party lines as we worked on is­sues rang­ing from trans­porta­tion to mil­i­tary base clos­ings to mak­ing sure the state kept its fis­cal com­mit­ments to de­liver ser­vices.”

Davis’s skills in po­lit­i­cal strate­giz­ing are leg­endary. He has been known to re­cite elec­tion re­sults from decades-old pres­i­den­tial con­tests and rat­tle off precinct re­sults in his dis­trict with ease. A for­mer Se­nate page, he has spent years study­ing Vir­ginia and pre­par­ing for a Se­nate race, nur­tur­ing can­di­dates near and far, con­tribut­ing money and fos­ter­ing re­la­tion­ships with party lead­ers in out­ly­ing parts of the state.

Davis is stead­fast in his be­lief that his mod­er­ate pol­i­tics, fo­cused more on eco­nomic growth and less on di­vi­sive so­cial is­sues, is the right di­rec­tion for the state GOP. The steady lean to­ward Demo­cratic can­di­dates in his dis­trict, which en­com­passes Fair­fax County com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing Vi­enna, Oak­ton and An­nan­dale as well as a sliver of Prince William County, shows that hard-core con­ser­vatism doesn’t work any­more on statewide bal­lots, he said.

But Davis didn’t count on the ve­he­mence with which the GOP’s con­ser­va­tive wing would re­sist his ef­forts to move the party to the mid­dle. His de­ci­sion not to run for the Se­nate was spurred in part by an ugly bat­tle in the state party, which held a con­ven­tion in­stead of a pri­mary to choose its nom­i­nee. The de­ci­sion fa­vored for­mer gov­er­nor James S. Gil­more III, a more con­ser­va­tive can­di­date viewed as like­lier to at­tract the party faith­ful who typ­i­cally at­tend con­ven­tions.

“I’m not at all bit­ter,” Davis said. “I’m just dis­ap­pointed. We have such an op­por­tu­nity to put to­gether a coali­tion that’s good for Vir­ginia. In­stead of open­ing up the party to peo­ple who agree with them on many is­sues, they’ve de­cided to have an ad­mis­sions test [on abor­tion and taxes]. And that’s not a win­ning for­mula for them or for Vir­ginia.”

Davis said he didn’t know whether he would have de­feated any of the Democrats likely to run for his seat. But in the end, it was time for a change, he said.

“We’re just very tired,” he said. “We’re go­ing to kick back and have some week­ends.”

Af­ter 14 years in the House, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) says he is ready to take a “sab­bat­i­cal.”


U.S. Reps. Christo­pher Shays (R-Conn.), left, Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Henry A. Wax­man (D-Calif.) dur­ing a de­bate last year among mem­bers of the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, which Davis led.

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