DRAKE, Thelma D.

DRAKE, Thelma D.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


A longtime delegate in the Virginia general assembly and a real estate agent with two decades of experience, Thelma Drake won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 from a Tidewater–centered district. From her assignment on the influential Armed Services Committee, Representative Drake served as an advocate for her district's large constituency of active–duty and retired military personnel.

Thelma Drake was born on November 20, 1949, in Elyria, Ohio. She attended the local public schools and graduated from Elyria High School in 1967. She left Ohio at age 17 and relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, with her first husband, a Navy serviceman. They had two children, Lynn and J. Mark, but were subsequently divorced, leaving her to raise the children alone. "I always felt I was the only person responsible for myself," she once remarked. "You don't turn to other people to help you." She remarried and divorced again, before marrying Thomas E. "Ted" Drake in 1990.1

Drake became involved in politics in 1964, as a high school student, when she volunteered for the Barry Goldwater campaign. When she settled in Norfolk, she became active in local civic organizations—including the Granby High School PTA. She also was active in the local Republican Party. She eventually settled into a career in real estate sales. As a successful agent for more than 20 years, Drake developed a base of connections throughout the Norfolk area. In 1994, she won election to the house of delegates, where she served five consecutive terms—eventually chairing the Virginia Housing Commission and serving on the influential finance committee.

In the fall of 2004, when two–term Republican incumbent Ed Shrock abruptly ended his re–election campaign and announced his decision to retire from the House in January 2005, local party leaders turned to Drake as their candidate for the open seat. The district encompassed the state's largest city, Virginia Beach, and portions of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, before crossing the bay to take in the Virginia section of the Delmarva peninsula. Drake had roughly 60 days to campaign, but capitalized on her wide name recognition from her decade in the state assembly. She also benefitted from the slight conservative tilt of a district populated by military families and retirees.2 In the general election she defeated David Ashe, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Iraq War, by 10 percent of the vote. When she stood for re–election in 2006, a year in which House Republicans lost their majority for the first time in 12 years, Drake staved off a stiff challenge from Democrat Phil Kellam, a member of a prominent local political family, by less than 3 percent of the vote.3

When Drake took her seat in the 109th Congress (2005–2007), she received assignments on three committees: Armed Services; Education and the Workforce; and Resources. The Armed Services panel was critical to her Tidewater Virginia constituency, which included nearly 110,000 military personnel and civilian employees at a half dozen bases—including the world's largest naval base, the Norfolk Naval Station.4 She eventually served as the third–ranking member on the panel's Subcommittee on Military Personnel. She also served on the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats. In the 110th Congress (2007–2009), she left the Resources and Education and the Workforce committees, for a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She also served on the House Republican Policy Committee which shapes the GOP message on major policy initiatives.5

In the House, Drake focused on the military constituency which she represented. She was an advocate for programs to expand several naval weapons programs and to increase the number of naval vessels under portage at the Norfolk Naval Station. Local shipyards in Newport News employed thousands of residents from her district. Representative Drake supported the development of the Navy's newest generation of aircraft carriers, the CVN–21, being designed at Newport News. "I believe it is important that the private sector and the military work hand–in–hand to provide our fighting men and women with the most up–to–date technology," Drake noted, promising "to ensure that our all–volunteer military has the tools it needs to keep our country safe.…"6 Drake also was a firm supporter of the George W. Bush administration policies in Iraq, opposing a 2007 proposal to set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces. During a floor speech she told colleagues, "A retreat at this point in time could, down the road, necessitate our troops returning to an Iraq that is much more dangerous than the one they left." Drake also co–sponsored measures to benefit military veterans, including two in the 110th Congress which increased benefits for service members with combat or service related disabilities.7

Drake's seat on the Resources Committee gave her a prime assignment on a panel with jurisdiction over policies affecting the marine and coastal environment of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean which her district abutted. She was a member of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force and the Congressional Shellfish Caucus—both platforms from which to address and educate Members and the public about revitalization efforts in the Bay. In the 110th Congress, she cosponsored a bill to establish the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

In 2008, Drake faced yet another tough re–election bid. In an election year in which Virginia voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964—and Democrats picked up a total of three U.S. House seats statewide—Drake lost to Democrat Glenn Nye, a former Foreign Service officer, 52 to 48 percent. Drake's term expired on January 3, 2009, at the conclusion of the 110th Congress.


1Quoted in Louis Hansen, "Drake Relies on Her Record as She Seeks Congress Seat," 26 October 2004, The Virginian–Pilot (Norfolk, VA): B6. Additional biographical information drawn from: Aaron Applegate, "Two–Term incumbent Displays a Knack for Bonding With Voters," 18 October 2008, The Virginian–Pilot (Norfolk, VA): A1; Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 1042–1043; Almanac of American Politics, 2006 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Inc., 2005): 1719–1721.

2Politics in America, 2008: 1043.

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

4Politics in America, 2008: 1043.

5"About Thelma," official biography on Representative Drake's Web site, online at http://drake.house.gov/Biography/ (accessed 22 December 2008).

6Representative Drake's statement on her House Armed Services Committee assignment, from her official House Web site: http://drake.house.gov/issuestemp/HASC.htm (accessed 22 December 2008).

7Speech of 17 February 2007 reproduced on Representative Drake's official House Web site http://drake.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=58490 (accessed 22 December 2008); see also Politics in America, 2008: 1042 and the summary of veterans' related legislation supported by Drake on http://drake.house.gov/IssuesTemp/veterans.htm (accessed on 22 December 2008).

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

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Thelma Drake" 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 - Education and the Workforce
  • House Committee - Resources
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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