Rep. Davis: Legislating in the Manner I Thought was Right

July 19, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Rodney Davis thought he knew what he was in for; after 16 years on the staff of Representative John Shimkus, the Des Moines, Iowa native “had some preconceived notions” about how to get things done.

But after prevailing in the 2012 election to represent Illinois’s 13th congressional district, Representative Davis was in for a surprise.

As he told attendees at this week’s “Legislating from the Middle,” a forum presented by Center Forward and sponsored by The Well News at the Newseum’s Knight Center, something had changed.”

The change was the rise in partisanship, a phenomena that made it hard to pass bills even on things that had traditionally enjoyed significant bipartisan support, like infrastructure and farm bills.

Compounding all this for the freshman lawmaker was the fact that in 2012 he won his election to the House, by a hair’s breadth — just 1,003 votes out of 294,385 votes cast.

“I came here with a target on my back and was told I wasn’t ever going to come back,” said Davis, who appeared to still be moved by the memory, despite successfully being re-elected in 2014, 2016, and 2018.

“So I started legislating, not particularly thinking I was doing so from the middle — I was just legislating in the manner I thought was right,” he said.

One of Davis’s first votes on the Hill was cast in favor the $30 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill drafted in response to the deadly 2012 storm that devastated many parts of the eastern seaboard.

“At the time I thought if there’s one thing that government should do well, it’s to help communities in this nation recover from natural disasters,” Davis said of his decision.

The next thing he knew he and other Republican supporters of the bill were being roundly criticized for crossing the aisle in a display of purported excessive largess.

“That, for me, was an instant initiation into what Congress was now all about,” Davis said. “As far as the far right and the far left is concerned, it doesn’t matter what you do, you are never going to appease them.”

But to Davis today, the disdain of those on the extremes is a badge of honor.

“It’s those polar ends of the political spectrum that have stopped us from doing anything on immigration reform.  The irony is, it’s the centrists who often pay the price,” he said.

Davis explained that in one of the odd quirks of politics, the districts that seem to send the most moderate and bipartisan members to Congress — the people willing to negotiate and get things done — are also the most likely to be shown the door the next election due to relatively small changes in the district’s makeup or even voter turnout.

“This is especially true in ‘wave years,'” Davis said. “Our Tuesday Group and more moderate members get eviscerated when the Democrats enjoy a wave year, and the Blue Dogs and New Democrats get eviscerated when the wave favors our side.

“The saddest part is you lose some of the best legislators,” he continued. “In the meantime, I think it’s critical that we keep this coalition together in the middle and continue to govern, regardless of what our leadership teams say.”

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