- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

She is a black, outspoken and a tireless Democratic representative who is not given to easy compromises for her disenfranchised constituents. He is the white, suburban, low-key Republican representative who staked his political career on being a coalition builder.

Both politicians are known for their commitment and pragmatism, but who would have guessed how well Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III could model, for their respective colleagues, the value of working across party lines to achieve solutions to help all?

“Tom and I may have seemed an odd political couple, but I don’t think it was so odd after all,” Mrs. Norton said yesterday, discussing Mr. Davis’ announcement that he will not seek re-election.

A centrist Republican representing Virginia’s 11th District, Mr. Davis last fall decided against a run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. John W. Warner. Then Wednesday, he announced that he is taking a “sabbatical” from political life.

“After much soul-searching and discussion with those closest to me, I have decided the time is right to take a sabbatical from public life,” Mr. Davis said, pledging to remain “an active contributor to Republican causes.” Mr. Davis’ withdrawal from Congress — and 29 years of elective office — is a loss not only for his Virginia constituents, but also the entire area, which is losing a friend in the House because he fought for voting rights in the District, for federal workers and for transportation funds to curb gridlock and spur economic growth, including the Mixing Bowl in Virginia and the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge crossing the Potomac River into Maryland.

“He was a moderate Republican, which made him a problem solver of the kind I simply had to be when I [as a Democrat] was in the minority,” said Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in the House. “Tom’s consistent willingness to work with me for 12 years on countless issues affecting the District was, I think, good politics for him and that reinforced and was emblematic of the moderation of his own constituents in Virginia.”

But it was Mr. Davis’ centrism that led to his downfall within his own party.

“The big losers are national and regional Republicans who don’t realize that the moderate, common-sense approach to politics is the way this country is moving,” Mrs. Norton said.

“Once you tear off the scab of the Republicans — moderate and conservative and everything else — it’s hard to put it back together,” Mr. Davis has said of his party members, whom he characterized as “more excited about beating other Republicans.” Indeed, Mr. Davis’ centrist model fit that of other political leaders in Virginia, where the demographically changing population is morphing the Old Dominion into a purple state.

Mrs. Norton said she didn’t know much about Mr. Davis when he took office, but he signaled a new cooperative era when he initiated a meeting to talk with her about his desire to head the House committee that had oversight of D.C. affairs. And Mr. Davis continued to respect home rule “even when the District faced its worst fiscal crisis in 100 years,” and the congressionally mandated financial control board was brought to bear.

The political odd couple eventually co-sponsored legislation, the so-called Davis-Norton bill, that would create a voting seat in the House for the Democrat-leaning District and the Republican-leaning Utah. Though the hard-fought measure passed the House, it shamelessly languishes in the Senate.

During an interview with WTOP Radio, Mr. Davis lamented the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, which he said makes it difficult to get much of substance accomplished.

Mr. Davis, working with others, helped build a coalition among the warring Maryland, Virginia and D.C. factions that stalled construction of the new Wilson Bridge. Breaking that political logjam led to securing federal transportation funds to pay for the 12-lane structure and that led the way to construction of National Harbor on the Prince George’s County shore.

That resort and conference center will provide work for thousands of area residents, as we witnessed during the job fair this week that drew 17,000 applicants. Now, that’s a surefire example of a long-term economic stimulus package that benefits the whole region. But the necessary infrastructure upgrades required that political leaders, people like Mr. Davis and Mrs. Norton, reach across party lines, roll up their sleeves and get the job done.

Mr. Davis, like most other politicians (and people for that matter), is not without his shortcomings, but as we move into the contentious political season, residents would do well to remember that we need more politicians to follow in his pragmatic, “problem-solving” footsteps.

It is not lost on anyone that Tom Davis said, in his parting comments, that he is taking a “respite” from politics. For the sake of this region, let’s hope that the money the 59-year-old Mr. Davis stands to earn in the private sector doesn’t get too good, and that his sabbatical won’t last too long.

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