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Thomas M. Davis III ’71
Doctor of Laws
His grandfather’s role in the Eisenhower administration inspired Tom Davis to set his sights on a career in public service. As a teenager, Davis volunteered for Richard Nixon’s 1960 campaign and became a Senate page before studying political science at Amherst, serving in the Army and earning a law degree. He built his political career from the ground up, successfully running in 1979 for a seat on the Fairfax County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors, which manages one of the largest municipal budgets in the nation and which he would chair from 1991 to 1994. Under Davis’ leadership, Fairfax was named the nation’s best-managed county in 1993.
Davis’ effective service in Fairfax County over 14 years—eliminating a budget shortfall, drafting an affordable-housing ordinance and opening a homeless shelter—garnered him a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 11th Congressional District in 1994. Davis quickly gained a reputation for creativity and bipartisanship, working with Democrats to address the city budgetary crisis in Washington, D.C. He fought tirelessly to enfranchise voters in the District and sponsored legislation that broadened access to higher education for D.C. high school graduates, who can now attend public colleges in Maryland and Virginia at in-state rates.
A formidable tactician, Davis chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1998 to 2002, successfully engineering two voting cycles that held the Republican majority. Davis was named chairman of the House Government Reform Committee in 2003 and served in this capacity for four years. In a testament to his ability to work across party lines, Davis was asked to chair the select bipartisan committee that investigated the response to Hurricane Katrina and resulted in the widely acclaimed report A Failure of Initiative.
A 1971 graduate of Amherst College, Davis earned a J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1975. He attended the officer candidate school of the U.S. Army, served on active duty and spent eight years with the Virginia National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve. After leaving Congress at the end of his seventh term in 2008, he taught a course on Southern politics at George Mason University, signed on as Director of Federal Government Relations at Deloitte, LLP, and was recently named president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership.
Hear Davis’s talk, “Bipartisanship in a Partisan Washington,” on our audio page, Conversations with Honored Guests.