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When Rep. Darrell Issa outlined his agenda just days after the Republican victory in 2010 assured him of the chairmanship of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he highlighted stimulus spending and the health care overhaul as investigative targets.
D.C. autonomy wasn’t on the list.
But the California Republican’s relationship with former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) — a mentor and friend who chaired the committee from 2003 to 2007 — has helped make him an unlikely champion of budget independence for the District of Columbia.
“Darrell is a very smart guy, and he’s a principled guy, and he recognizes the District’s plight,” Davis said, “that this is the capital of the free world, it is not representative of Congress, and Congress shouldn’t try bullying it around. We’ve got to respect local authority.”
Congress passed legislation in 1995 creating a now-disbanded “control board” that saved the District from financial ruin. As chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the 109th Congress, Davis — who represented the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia from 1995 to 2008 and is now director of federal government affairs at Deloitte — shepherded a bill that would have secured a Congressional seat for the District, a measure Issa supported.
On D.C. issues, Davis “was a powerhouse,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said. “He did not go out of his way to look for ways to stand in the way of the District, or make life difficult for the District. … He wanted to make things happen.”
When Davis retired and Issa became ranking member of the panel, the Californian kept on several members of Davis’ staff who were well-informed on D.C. issues. It also was from Davis that Issa developed his philosophy about what Congress’ relationship with the District should entail.
“When it was time for me to leave, we had lined Darrell up to take my spot as ranking member, and now chairman, and I think his heart is good,” Davis said.
Today, Issa describes himself as D.C.’s “governor.”
“I have the right and the obligation to intervene if something is grossly wrong,” he said, “but I also have an obligation to realize that if I try to run [the District], I’ll certainly run it poorly. That’s the way I view it, and that’s the way Tom Davis viewed it.”
Despite his favorable views on D.C. autonomy, Issa got off to a sketchy start in his relations with the city.
When shepherding Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) D.C. school voucher bill through committee in March, Norton accused Issa of working against the will of residents.