Rep. Jo Ann Davis dead at 57

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, whose district serves southern Prince William County, died Saturday morning at her Gloucester home after a battle with breast cancer. She was 57.

Davis was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and had a re-occurrence earlier this year. She had been undergoing treatment at Duke University and was doing well, but her condition deteriorated in the last week, a press release from her office stated.

Funeral arrangements have not been released.

The first female Republican in Congress from Virginia was a scrappy and sometimes independent-minded politician who called in August 2006 for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“I am not your typical politician,” Davis declared in opening her re-election campaign in 2006. “I’m a country girl who believes in straight talk and common sense, conservative ideas.”

Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Dale City, thought highly of Davis and her style. “You just couldn’t find a more devoted public servant. She was wonderful. I just had the deepest regard for her and the job that she did,” Lingamfelter said.

Davis built a reputation for constituent service. She had frequent success in fighting for legislation to benefit district military installations and employers such as Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton.

Mitchel Raftelis, the former mayor of the Town of Quantico who currently serves on the town council, remembered Davis as a “very good representative.”

“She always communicated with us here when we needed something. She was always very supportive,” Raftelis said.

She continued to serve her district as she fought the disease, Raftelis said.

“Even with her cancer, she was very strong in her feelings in representing her district and doing what she could for the people,” Raftelis said.

Fred Yohey, the mayor of the Town of Dumfries, echoed Raftelis’ sentiments.

“She always tried to work hard for this area. I have nothing but the greatest respect for her. I’m sorry to hear about her passing,” Yohey said.

Davis first was elected in 2000 after serving three years in the House of Delegates.

Born to modest means, she was the daughter of a Hampton city bus driver and grew up in a trailer. She went to college for one day, then packed up because she was homesick, she told Congressional Quarterly last year.

Yet she established a real estate business and won election first to the General Assembly in 1998 and to Congress in 2000.

While Republicans still controlled the House, she served separately as chair of a subcommittee of the House Government Reform committee dealing with the federal work force; and as chair of the Intelligence subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence.

Pro-military and initially a supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, she came to express second thoughts in 2006 about U.S. troops being there in the first place.

“All of the intelligence we were given says we should be over there,” the Associated Press quoted Davis as saying. “If I had known that the intelligence they gave us wasn’t correct, I don’t know how I would have voted.”

On the home front, she was a dogged but less than successful advocate of legislation for tools to allow Virginia to regulate the trash shipped in from other states.

She was one of only 24 Republicans voting in January for a bill authorizing the Health and Human Services Department to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, and Davis sponsored a similar bill of her own.

Her district has a large number of aging military retirees, and Davis didn’t always side with her party on votes tied to Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health

programs for seniors and the poor.

She introduced this year a bill that would have required health plans to cover up to 48 hours in the hospital, if the patient and doctor want it, for a woman having a mastectomy or lumpectomy.

Davis was candid in assessing the bill had better prospects given the Democratic takeover of Congress. “They tend to be a little more free with wanting to do health care than we do on the Republican side,” she said.

Peter Hardin is a staff writer for Media General’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.