During my study leave I got to know Congressman Geoff Davis, who generously gave me some time to share his reflections on faith and politics. In this post, I explain how we came to meet, something of Congressman Davis’ military, business and political background, and an introduction to the role of Congress. In a later post, I’ll talk about the conversations we had together.
At a meeting of Church leaders on Thursday on Thursday 15 June (about a series of events on the Middle East for Midwestern Churches) I had a conversation with Pat Davis, wife of Geoff Davis. Pat was very interested to hear about my study leave, and thought that her husband would like to get to know me. The next day Congressman Davis called me, and we had a long conversation. We also agreed to meet up the next day as he would be coming back from Church and on his way to a family barbeque. So on the Sunday morning I met with the Congressman and Mrs Davis for over an hour at a Starbucks in Northern Kentucky. We also met later, on 26 July, during my family holiday. Congressman Davis had invited myself, Katharina and my two children to visit his office and to take a tour of the Capitol building. I’m very grateful to Congressman Davis and his staff for taking the time to give me an insight into how the faith and politics interact from the point of view of a working politician.
Under the US Constitution, Congress- the legislative branch of government, is split into two houses. The Senate is the upper house, consisting of 2 members from each state, regardless of their population, thus giving 100 members. In the House of Representativesthe number of members of each state is based on the state’s population, and is much larger, with 435 members. As well as its law-making powers, the House is responsible for the Federal budget and has other powers reserved to it by the Constitution. It has little influence over foreign policy, however, which tends to be the preserve of the Senate, which has the power to ratify treaties. House Bills become law if they are passed by the Senate and not vetoed by the President. Rather like our own House of Commons, the US lower House tends to be the more rumbustious of the two Houses of Congress, with members being generally younger, and perhaps more connected to electors, since they serve for only two years.
In the 2012 House elections, a large electoral swing saw the Republican party take the house; however there continues to be a Democratic majority in the Senate, and of course President Obama is also a Democrat. Such a situation is not unusual in the United States, and often leads to laws and policies which are hammered out in negotiations between the different branches of government. However the Republicans in the House have been unusually firm during the last two years, unwilling to compromise with the Democrats in the Senate and the White House. The resulting political paralysis has been much criticized, as America faces the continuing challenges of the economic recession.
When we met, Congressman Davis represented the Fourth District of Kentucky, an area in the north of the state on the south bank of the Ohio river, which marks the northern boundary of the state of the Kentucky with West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana. Many of his constituents are in an urban just south of the river in what is effectively part a part of the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area (Cincinnati itself is in Ohio, but the airport for Cincinnati is in Kentucky. So Kentucky was one state I visited on my travels which I hadn’t expected to go to!).
Geoff Davis had previously been a US Army officer: an Army Ranger and Senior Parachutist. He studied national security and international affairs at West Point, was an Assault Helicopter Flight Commander in the 82nd Airborne Division and later ran U.S. Army aviation operations for peace enforcement between Israel and Egypt. Before going into politics he owned a business consultancy. Congressman Davis was first elected to Congress in 2004, being re-elected in 2006, 2008 and 2010. His Democratic opponent in 2004 was Nick Clooney, a Kentuckian with name recognition, as he is the father of Hollywood actor George Clooney. In 2010, Davis won with 69% of votes cast.
Wikipedia describes Davis as having a ‘has a solidly conservative voting record’. For example, he has been in favour of business deregulation and support for small businesses, has taken a strong line on the Iraq war, and has sponsored a bill to restrict the power of the Executive branch (the White House) to make regulations- a bill which President Obama has said he would veto if it came to him for approval. Recently, following the Supreme Court’s decision that the President’s Health Care bill did not run counter to the Constitution, Davis argued that the fight to abolish ‘Obamacare’ ought to continue. He has an interest in welfare programmes: he supported bipartisan initiatives which made it into law to help veterans, counter homelessness and fight hunger as the recession deepened. He has been honoured for his work to improve low-income housing in rural areas, and by Women’s Crisis Center of Northern Kentucky for his work to fight domestic violence in Kentucky. He was a member of the most influential of the House Committees, Ways and Means (which initiates tax legislation and exercises great influence over the business of the House); Davis was Chairman of its Subcommittee on Human Resources, which oversees certain welfare programmes, including child care, child and family services, child support, foster care, adoption, and aspects of unemployment benefits. He introduced into Congress the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act which was signed into law by President Obama on September 30, 2011, a bipartisan bill reauthorizing and improving two Federal child welfare programs.
Congressman Davis had previously announced that he did not intend to run for another term in 2012, but on 31 July, just a few days after I met him once again in Washington DC, he surprised political observers with an announcement that due to family illness, he was resigning immediately from Congress. In his statement he said,
When I was a Cadet at West Point, I internalized the words of the U.S. Military Academy’s motto, ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’ Next, I learned that success was based on honoring God, Family, and Work, in that order. In December 2011, I decided that in order to honor those values, I needed to retire from Congressional service so I could more effectively serve my family as a husband and father.
In my next post I’ll write about the conversations I had with Congressman Davis.