DAVIS, Jo Ann

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
DAVIS, Jo Ann
Image, Congressional Pictorial Directory, 109th
1950–2007

Biography

From humble origins, Jo Ann Davis emerged as a successful businesswoman, state delegate, and U.S. Representative. Just four years after winning her first political office in the Virginia general assembly, Davis won election in an eastern Virginia district along the Chesapeake Bay as the first Republican woman to represent her state in Congress. With seats on the Armed Services, International Relations, and Intelligence Committees—where she served as chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counter-Intelligence—Davis positioned herself as a strong advocate for the defense-related interests which dominated her district.

Jo Ann Davis was born in Rowan, North Carolina, on June 29, 1950. When she was nine years old, her family moved to Hampton, Virginia. Her upbringing—she recalls spending much of her childhood living in a trailer park—was modest. In 1968 she graduated from Kecoughtan High School in Hampton and later attended the Hampton Roads Business College. Afterward, she became an executive secretary at a Hampton real estate company. She married Chuck Davis, a battalion chief with the Hampton fire department, and they raised two children: Charlie and Chris. Jo Ann Davis earned a real estate license in 1984 and opened a property management company in 1988. She then established her own realty business in 1990.1

In 1997 one of her employees pulled her aside and said, “Jo Ann, come here. Have you ever thought about running for public office?” Davis replied that it was a “crazy” idea.2 She soon changed her mind, however, and ran a successful campaign that unseated a well-financed incumbent state delegate in 1997. She was re-elected to the state house with more than 70 percent of the vote. Davis served in the Virginia house of delegates until 2001.3

When nine-term U.S. Representative Herbert Harvell Bateman of Virginia announced his retirement in September 2000 (he subsequently died before the general election), Davis entered the Republican primary with four other candidates and used an effective grassroots campaign to win the GOP nomination. Davis, whose platform included a call to bolster defense spending, support for school choice, and anti-abortion policies, easily won the general election in the heavily Republican district with 57 percent of the vote against a 30-year political veteran who was the former mayor of Fredericksburg, Virginia.4

In the 107th Congress (2001–2003), Davis landed assignments on three committees: Armed Services; Government Reform; and International Relations (later named Foreign Relations). In 2004 she left her Government Reform post, where she had risen to chair the Civil Service and Agency Reform Subcommittee, to join the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where she served two terms.5

From her post on the Armed Services Committee, Davis was attuned to the needs of her district, with naval and air force installations in the Hampton Roads area, the Quantico Marine Corps Base, and a group of smaller military and NASA installations scattered throughout the region. Once in office, she became a leading proponent for expanding the Navy fleet by nearly 60 ships, to 375. She supported a pay raise for military personnel and backed the Veterans’ Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001. Davis introduced her own legislation to retroactively raise the life insurance benefits for dependents of servicemen and servicewomen killed in the line of duty. The legislation was included in a veterans’ survivor benefits package which passed the House in March 2001 and was signed into law several months later. She also founded the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus to advocate for the thousands of dockworkers in her district.6

Davis developed an environmental record that won praise from both Democrats and Republicans. She was able to secure $48 million in federal funding to clean up and remove a portion of the “ghost fleet”—dilapidated decommissioned naval ships from a site on the James River near Newport News. Another one of Davis’s environmental projects involved her longtime opposition to the growing trash importation industry in Virginia. She also opposed the construction of a Newport News water reservoir that would have flooded hundreds of acres of wetlands.7 On the contentious issue of developing oil reserves in Alaska’s north range, Davis voted with her party to allow exploratory drilling.8

Davis was a vocal supporter of the George W. Bush administration’s post-September 11th foreign policy, voting to authorize the war against Iraq and supporting the administration’s defense budget increases. “To continue protecting the homeland and fighting the war on terror is certainly one of the greatest priorities for my district,” Davis said.9 She ran for re-election unopposed in 2002, and two years later, defeated an independent candidate with 80 percent of the vote for a seat in the 109th Congress (2005–2007). In 2006 Davis won re-election to her fourth and final term by defeating Democrat Shawn O’Donnell with 63 percent of the vote.10

Davis passed away on October 6, 2007, in Gloucester County, Virginia, after a two-year battle with breast cancer. She was succeeded in a special election on December 11, 2007, by Robert J. Wittman, a former member of the Virginia house of delegates.11

Footnotes

1Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 1039; David Lerman, “Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis: 1950–2007; The Unlikely Politician,” 8 October 2007, Daily Press (Newport News, VA): A1; Mark Di Vincenzo, “GOP’s Davis Has Overcome Shyness,” 23 October 1997, Daily Press: C10.

2Hugh Lessig, “Can Davis Make Her Mark in Politics?,” 15 October 2000, Norfolk Daily Press (VA): C1.

3Patrick Lee Plaisance, “General Assembly 1999: Davis: Get Money to Schools,” 29 December 1998, Daily Press: n.p.

4Hugh Lessig, “Davis Takes GOP Slot,” 14 June 2000, Daily Press: n.p.; Terry Scanlon, “1st District Race A Mystery to Some; Voters Focusing On Other Campaigns,” 30 October 2000, Daily Press: n.p.; Terry Scanlon, “Elections Are As Varied As The Candidates; Voters Will Decide Seats, Many Issues,” 5 November 2000, Daily Press: n.p.; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

5Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present.”

6Lerman, “Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis”; Patricia Sullivan, “U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, 57; Fought for Employees’ Rights,” 7 October 2007, Washington Post: C7; A bill to provide for an increase in the amount of Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance paid to survivors of members of the Armed Forces, H.R. 1015, 107th Cong. (2001); Veterans’ Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001, PL 107-14, 115 Stat. 25 (2001); National Naval Force Structure Policy Act, H.R. 5196, 107th Cong. (2002); National Naval Force Structure Policy Act, H.R. 375, 110th Cong. (2007); Military Pay Improvement Act of 2007, H.R. 2027, 110th Cong. (2007); Jim Hodges, “U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Gloucester: Going Public All Over Again, 13 August 2006, Daily Press: B1.

7Michelle Boorstein, “Entrenched Incumbent Faces Foe of Big Government,” 10 October 2004, Washington Post: C5.

8Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (21 April 2005): H2449; Energy Policy Act of 2005, H.R. 6, 109th Cong. (2005).

9“Jo Ann Davis,” 28 October 2004, Washington Post: Virginia Extra Section, T6.

10“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

11“Jo Ann Davis, 57; Represented Virginia in Congress,” 8 October 2007, New York Times: B6; Sullivan, “U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, 57”; “Jo Ann Davis,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, https://bioguide.congress.gov; “Robert J. Wittman,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, https://bioguide.congress.gov.

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

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External Research Collections

College of William and Mary
Earl Gregg Swem Library

Williamsburg, VA
Papers: 2000-2007, 4 boxes. The papers of Rep. Jo Ann Davis are mostly legislative material where she was either an originator of or co-signer to "Dear Colleague" letters or as a sponsor or co-sponsor to legislation. The papers also include correspondence, speeches, press releases and office files.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Jo Ann Davis" 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 - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Government Reform
    • Civil Service and Agency Organization - Chair
  • House Committee - International Relations
    • Europe - Chair
  • House Committee - Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
    • Intelligence Policy - Chair
    • Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis, and Counterintelligence - Chair
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