BROWN-WAITE, Virginia (Ginny)

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
BROWN-WAITE, Virginia (Ginny)
Image, Congressional Pictorial Directory, 109th Congress
1943–

Biography

Ginny Brown–Waite, a longstanding political veteran, focused her congressional career on protecting the interests of seniors and veterans in her Gulf Coast district. During her four terms in the House she charted an independent course by working with Members from both parties to strengthen entitlements, veterans’s care, and protections for women. “The bottom line is that the voters…like their elected officials to have the backbone of steel that Ginny Brown–Waite has,” said fellow Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.1

Virginia Kniffen was born in Albany, New York, on October 5, 1943. She was raised by her mother, Charlotte Kniffen, a file clerk, who expelled her abusive husband from the household.2 She graduated from Albany’s Vincentian High School in 1961. That same year she was married; that union later ended in divorce. While working for 17 years as an aide in the New York state senate in the 1970s and 1980s, she earned a bachelor of science degree in public administration from the University of New York at Albany in 1976. Brown continued her education at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, where she earned a master’s in science degree in public administration in 1984. Brown later re–married to Harvey Waite, a New York state trooper. The couple raised three daughters: Danene, Lorie, and Jeannine.3

Brown–Waite’s career in electoral politics commenced after she moved to Florida in 1987.4 She won election to the Hernando County board of commissioners in 1990 and to the Florida state senate in 1992. As a state senator she served three terms and chaired several committees. Brown–Waite developed a reputation for her work on welfare reform, health care reform, and veterans’ issues. She climbed the GOP ranks in the Florida senate, serving as majority whip in 1999 and president pro tempore from 2001–2002.5

In 2002, redistricting favored Brown–Waite in the race for Florida’s west–central congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She won the Republican primary in September 2002, and commenced a “sleep–optional” campaign against the five–term incumbent, Democrat Karen Thurman. She relied on grass–roots volunteers for most of her campaigning. “We knew it was going to be won on the ground, not the airwaves,” she said.6 In a district populated by many retirees, Brown–Waite’s platform focused on revamping Social Security, improving prescription drug benefits to seniors, and cutting taxes as a catalyst for economic growth.7 She prevailed over Thurman in a four–way campaign with 48 percent of the vote. Brown–Waite won re–election to the House in subsequent elections with 59 percent of the vote or greater.8

Taking her seat as a Member of the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Brown–Waite served on the Financial Services, Veterans’ Affairs, and Budget committees.9 Usually a reliable vote for the Republican leadership, Brown–Waite voted to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act, enact the 2003 tax cuts, and ban partial–birth abortion.10 A strong supporter of the Medicare Prescription Drug bill in 2003, she championed the program throughout her district.11 In her freshman term, she proposed legislation to designate 30 days as the standard time for access to primary care for the Veterans’ Administration.12 She later helped push through the 2005 law to increase the death benefit paid to survivors of service members killed in action.13 Yet, Brown–Waite did not always toe the party line. She was skeptical of the George W. Bush administration’s proposed changes to Social Security and opposed privatization. I am “especially attuned to the need for equity and making sure the Social Security recipients are held blameless,” she said.14 She also voted with 50 other Republicans in 2006 to override the President’s veto of legislation expanding federally funded embryonic stem cell research and was one of five Republicans to vote against intervening in the Terri Schiavo affair.15

During the 109th Congress (2005–2007), the Congressional Women’s Caucus selected Brown–Waite and Democrat Hilda L. Solis of California as its co–chairs. In this position, Brown–Waite pressed for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 3402). The daughter of an abusive father, this issue was particularly consequential to her.[FOOT 16] “[D]omestic violence affects our most vulnerable constituents: battered women and their families,” she stated on the House Floor.17 In 2009, she exchanged her seats on the Financial Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans’ Affairs committees for a spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.18 She was also named to a Republican task force on the health care overhaul, where she strongly opposed the Majority Democrat’s health care plan.19

In August 2008, at the start of the congressional campaign, Brown–Waite’s husband, Harvey Waite, passed away after a six–month battle with pancreatic cancer.20 While attending bereavement counseling she met Tony Selvaggio, a businessman who had recently lost his wife. They were married in late March 2010 soon after she announced her intention to seek re–election to a fifth term.21 In April 2010, during a congressional recess, Brown–Waite was diagnosed with a similar pancreatic growth to that which killed her husband, Harvey.22 On April 30, 2010, citing her own health challenges, Brown–Waite announced that she would not seek re–election. Making the announcement only hours before Florida’s filing deadline, she tapped Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent as her preferred successor.23 He defeated consultant Jim Piccillo for election to the House for the 112th Congress (2011–2013) with 67.5 percent of the vote.24

Footnotes

1Wes Allison and Elena Lesley, “Brown–Waite is No One’s Rubber Stamp,” 28 May 2006, St. Petersburg Times: 1A.

2Tom Jackson, “Keeping Vows is Her Lifetime Ambition,” 15 December 2002, Tampa Tribune: 1; Allison and Lesley, “Brown–Waite is No One’s Rubber Stamp.”

3“Ginny Brown–Waite,” 1 September 2002, Lakeland Ledger: S6; Allison and Lesley, “Brown–Waite is No One’s Rubber Stamp.”

4“For a Better State Senate,” 18 October 1992, St. Petersburg Times: 2D; Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 232.

5“Ginny Brown–Waite for U.S. Congress," http://www.brown–waitecongress.com.bio/htm (accessed 6 November 2002, site discontinued); Politics in America, 2010: 231.

6Jeffrey Solochek, “How Brown–Waite Ousted Thurman,” 7 November 2002, St. Petersburg Times: 1

7Lakeland Ledger, “Ginny Brown–Waite;” “Virginia ‘Ginny’ Brown–Waite,” 8 September 2002, Orlando Sentinel: G6.

8"Election Statistics, 1920 to Present," http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

9Congressional Directory, 108th Congress (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2003): 394, 401, 431.

10Office of the Clerk, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 627,” http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll627.xml (accessed 20 April 2011); Office of the Clerk, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 182,” http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2003/roll182.xml (accessed 27 April 2011); Office of the Clerk, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 530,” http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2003/roll530.xml (accessed 27 April 2011).

11Allison and Lesley, “Brown–Waite Is No One’s Rubber Stamp”

12H.R. 3094, 108th Cong., 1st sess.

13Allison and Lesley, “Brown–Waite is No One’s Rubber Stamp.”

14William E. Gibson, “Florida Wary about Proposed Changes in Social Security,” 29 January 2005, South Florida Sun–Sentinel.

15Office of the Clerk, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 388,” http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll388.xml (accessed 20 April 2011); Office of the Clerk, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 90,” http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll090.xml (accessed 3 June 2011). In 2005 the Senate passed a bill, S. 686, to move a family dispute over the course of treatment of a woman in a “persistent vegetative state” from state to federal courts in order to keep the woman alive.

16Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 232.

17Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (27 September 2005): 8381.

18Congressional Directory, 111th Congress (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2009): 450.

19Politics in America, 2010: 230.

20“Harvey F. Waite, RIP,” 19 August 2008, St. Petersburg Times.

21Kyle Martin, “Out of Grief Comes Love,” 29 August 2009, Tampa Tribune.

22Subsequently, Brown–Waite’s tumor was found to be benign and she recovered. Tony Marrero, “Former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown–Waite Considers Running for Office,” St. Petersburg Times, 6 March 2011, http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/local/former–us–rep–ginny–waite–considers, accessed 21 July 2011.

23Michael D. Bates, "Brown–Waite Ill, Steps Aside for Sheriff Nugent in House Race," 30 April 2010, Hernando Today (Brooksville, FL).

24Election 2010, “Election Results: Florida,” http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/florida (accessed 27 May 2011); Tony Marrero, “Nugent Gets Easy Win in Republican Territory,” 3 November 2010, St. Petersburg Times: 12A.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Virginia 'Ginny' Brown-Waite" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Financial Services
  • House Committee - Government Reform
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
  • House Committee - Veterans' Affairs
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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