Davis Standing on Politics and Principle

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) says of the District's right to a vote in Congress:
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) says of the District's right to a vote in Congress: "Everyone else has been running from this for years." His plan would add a seat each for Utah and the District. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Amy Gardner and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thomas M. Davis III is a Virginia Republican, an influential committee chairman, and until 2002, served as his party's chief financial strategist for beating Democrats in House races.

So what was he doing last week championing voting rights for the overwhelmingly Democratic residents of the District?

The answer is simple, Davis said in an interview yesterday.

"To me, this is a very important issue," he said. "Once in a while, you sit back and say, 'This is just wrong, and I'm in a position to do something about it.' I've set my marker down, and this is the right thing to do."

Many who know him say Davis is sincere in his determination to give the District a vote in Congress. Others say the issue is also a winner for Davis because it will sit well with the moderates and liberals increasingly calling his once-safely-Republican district home. In any event, he seems determined to see the issue through.

"Tom Davis has always shown respect for the District of Columbia," said Davis's friend and colleague on Capitol Hill, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "He also understands that it's in his interest to promote legislation like this."

The Republican leadership might not see it that way. Davis, 57, may have breached party protocol last week when he declared that "the stars are aligning" behind a measure that could add two seats to the House and permanently expand its membership for the first time in nearly 100 years. The second seat would go to Utah, which gave President Bush his largest margin of victory in 2004.

At a news conference Thursday, Davis said he hoped to push the measure through his Committee on Government Reform. It would then move to the Judiciary Committee, where, Davis said, Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) has pledged to put it to a vote.

Republican leaders have not signaled an intention to block the bill; a spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that Boehner is "letting the committees work their will on this issue."

But leadership aides were quick to predict that the bill has no chance this year. A Judiciary Committee spokesman said Sensenbrenner might conduct only a hearing. And Friday, Davis said he probably will wait until after the Memorial Day recess to bring the bill forward in his committee.

Still, in an interview from Charleston, S.C., where he was meeting with fiscal conservatives in the GOP, Davis was not contrite about pushing hard on the issue -- even though, he conceded, the quest "may be quixotic." Davis said the lack of democracy in the nation's capital is not only a glaring injustice but also a destructive force in local politics.

"Everyone else has been running from this for years," he said.

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