BROWN-WAITE, Virginia (Ginny)

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
BROWN-WAITE, Virginia (Ginny)
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1943–

Biography

Ginny Brown-Waite, a longtime 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 United States House of Representatives, she charted an independent course by working with Members from both parties to strengthen entitlements, veterans’ 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 Florida Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.1

Ginny Brown-Waite was born Virginia Kniffen 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 their household.2 Brown-Waite 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, Brown-Waite graduated with a bachelor’s 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 an MS in public administration in 1984. Brown later married 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 focused on legislation dealing with 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 to 2002.5

In 2002 redistricting favored Brown-Waite in the race for Florida’s west-central 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. Brown-Waite relied on grassroots 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 her subsequent re-elections with 59 percent of the vote or greater.8

Taking her seat in 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, to enact the 2003 tax cuts, and for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.10 A strong supporter of the GOP’s Medicare Prescription Drug bill in 2003, she championed the program throughout her district.11 In her freshman term, she proposed legislation requiring the Veterans’ Administration to treat patients seeking health care within 30 days.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 changes to Social Security proposed by the George W. Bush administration, and she opposed efforts to privatize the program. 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 the effort to intervene in the case involving Terri Schiavo, a woman who had suffered brain damage following a heart attack and whose family was in the middle of a court battle over the legality of taking Schiavo off life support.15

During the 109th Congress (2005–2007), the bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus selected Brown-Waite and Democrat Hilda L. Solis of California as its co-chairs. In this position, Brown-Waite—who had grown up with an abusive father—pressed for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.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 health care reform, where she strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act.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 pancreatic growth similar to what 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 Nugent 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 (FL): 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, The Ledger (Lakeland, FL): 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,” official campaign website of Ginny Brown-Waite, https://web.archive.org/web/20021107083110/http://www.brown-waitecongress.com/bio.htm; Politics in America, 2010: 231.

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

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

8Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

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

10Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 627,” https://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll627.xml; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 182,” https://clerk.house.gov/evs/2003/roll182.xml; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 530,” https://clerk.house.gov/evs/2003/roll530.xml.

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

12Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act, H.R. 3094, 108th Cong. (2003).

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 (Ft. Lauderdale): n.p.

15Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 388,” https://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll388.xml; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Final Vote Results for Roll Call 90,” https://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll090.xml. In 2005 the Senate passed S. 686 to move a family dispute over the course of Schiavo’s treatment from state to federal courts in order to keep the woman alive.

16Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, H.R. 3402, 109th Cong. (2005); Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 232.

17Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (27 September 2005): H8381.

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

19Politics in America, 2010: 230.

20Alex Leary, “Harvey F. Waite, RIP,” 19 August 2008, Tampa Bay Times, https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2008/08/19/the-buzz-florida-politics/.

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

22Brown-Waite’s tumor was found to be benign, and she recovered. Tony Marrero, “Now, ‘A New Lease on Life,’” 6 March 2011, St. Petersburg Times: 1.

23Michael D. Bates, “Brown-Waite Ill, Steps Aside for Sheriff Nugent in House Race,” 1 May 2010, Citrus County Chronicle (Crystal River, FL): A1.

24“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; 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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