To all those irate Americans, especially my brothers and sisters on the press bus, who hourly bad-mouth Congress as a group of posturing partisans more concerned with election returns than practical results: Meet six-term Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). Davis is a pragmatist with principles who makes a large difference in the lives of a lot of people who will never vote for him or contribute to his campaign treasury -- American citizens who live in the District of Columbia.
Here's one example. Under Davis's effective leadership, Congress passed the D.C. College Access Program to enable Washington high school graduates to attend colleges around the country, to which they had been accepted, at in-state tuition rates. This sensible law encouraged families with children, concerned about the cost of college, to remain in the District and provide the community with both stability and revenue. With understandable pride, Davis reports: "Since the creation of the program, the number of high school graduates in D.C. continuing on to college has increased 28 percent." That is more than four times the average national increase over the same period.
In 1997, when Bill Clinton was in the White House, the city faced a budget crisis of monstrous dimensions. Many Republicans in Congress chortled that this fiscal mess constituted conclusive proof that the heavily Democratic (and African American) District was incapable of managing its own affairs. Davis, cooperating with the Democratic president, backed legislation placing nine D.C. agencies under an appointed control board. Two years later, after the control board achieved fiscal balance, Davis wrote the law that restored full management authority to the D.C. government. Today, Davis reports, "The city has the biggest budget surplus in the nation."
"To accomplish almost anything worthwhile," said Franklin Roosevelt, "it is necessary to compromise between the ideal and the practical." Like FDR, Davis is a fierce partisan. He has been the successful chairman of the GOP campaign committee charged with electing and reelecting House Republicans. He has been a staunch supporter of President Bush. He does not hide his ambition to seek statewide office in Virginia. But Davis is obviously more interested in making a real difference than in making enemies or debating points.
Now Davis has confronted -- with legislation -- what he calls the "unacceptable contradiction between the ideals upon which this country was founded and the District's exclusion from true congressional representation." Davis proposes to treat the District like a congressional district and permit the half-million citizens of Washington to elect their own voting member of the House of Representatives. His compromise is brilliant in its simplicity. It would increase the size of the U.S. House from 435 to 437 until after the 2010 census, after which it would revert to 435 -- with D.C. guaranteed one House seat.
Here is the genius of the Davis idea: His plan would grant the second seat to Utah (which came closest to qualifying for an extra seat in the 2000 census). D.C. would almost certainly send a Democrat to Congress, and Utah would send a Republican, thus preserving the partisan divide. He has studied the constitutional question, and his legislative solution has the backing of prominent conservative legal figures, including former assistant attorney general Viet Dinh and former federal judge Kenneth Starr.
Why does Davis do it? "We're the capital of the free world. We are spending billions of dollars and, more importantly, American blood to bring democracy and self-determination to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. For more than two centuries, D.C. residents have fought in 10 wars and paid billions of dollars in federal taxes. They have fought to bring democratic freedoms to people in distant lands. But here, they lack what is arguably the most fundamental right of all."
Tom Davis is no plaster saint. Like all of us, he has serious shortcomings. He is a tough political operator. But understand this about him. What he has done for the city of Washington and the Americans who live there wins him few votes in any Virginia statewide Republican primary and gets him no big donations. Tom Davis does it because legislating is what he does exceptionally well and because it is the just and right thing to do. For that he deserves our gratitude.
Creators Syndicate Inc.