Here in Washington, members of Congress generally divide themselves -- by their work ethic or lack thereof -- into one of two groups: the show horses or the workhorses.

You can’t miss the show horses. They are able to hear, at distances of up to six city blocks, film being put in a TV camera. Heliotropic plants are those that grow toward and seek the light of the sun; show-horse politicians seek the microphone, the spotlight and celebrity.

Workhorses do the unglamorous and often unappreciated work of crafting legislation, forging coalitions and fashioning compromises. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., is most definitely a workhorse.

Take the basic human rights question of American citizens who live in Washington, D.C. For the last 205 years, presidents and Congresses have denied the residents of Washington voting representation in the Congress. That injustice has been allowed to stand in the face of the manifest patriotism of the city’s sons and daughters.

In World War II, a greater percentage of Washington residents fought in uniform than those of any other state. More Washington, D.C., servicemembers were killed in Vietnam than were those from 10 other states. By Congress and presidents’ reasoning, if you live in Washington you can fight and even die for your country, but you will have no voice when that vote to go to war is cast.

Tom Davis could be about to right two centuries of wrong through his bill. With unassailable logic, he argues there is “an unacceptable contradiction between spending billions of dollars and, more importantly, American blood to bring democracy to Baghdad, while denying the residents of the capital of the free world what is arguably the most fundamental right of all.”

Davis’ bill would enlarge the membership of the U.S. House to 437 from its current 435 by giving one seat to Washington and the other to Utah (which missed qualifying for that seat in the last census by just 86 people). As you may have noticed, Washington, a Democratic stronghold, can be counted on to elect a Democrat to the House, while Utah, the state that gave President Bush his biggest victory percentage, will just as surely send a Republican. Davis calls this compromise “partisan-neutral.”

To be sure that there will be no vengeful, mid-decade redrawing of congressional lines like that ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay engineered in Texas two years ago, which eliminated Democratic seats, the new Utah House seat will be elected at large, thus preserving the existing districts until after the next census in 2010.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what the enormously respected Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told me: “Voting is the language of our democracy. Without it, the citizens of the District of Columbia are a silent voice in the wilderness. ... The concept Tom Davis put together was truly ingenious.”

Not lost on Henderson and many who have labored long and unsuccessfully for District voting representation is that Davis is a proud, unapologetic Republican. “I remember well,” admits Henderson, “the years when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress and the White House ... and we never got the vote.”

Tom Davis urges his GOP colleagues to seize what he has called a “golden chance for Republicans to take the reins of an issue (one African-Americans care deeply about) that Democrats talk about, but have offered no feasible solutions.”

Davis, the workhorse, has overcome the resistance of D.C.’s non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was holding out for her own -- unpassable -- bill to give Washington two U.S. senators along with a House member. He told me he is confident he will win strong backing for the D.C. vote bill from the House Government Reform Committee he chairs.

That committee’s able ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, is a sponsor of Davis’ bill, along with Norton and Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., among others.

The House Judiciary Committee will be a real test. Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., has promised a vote on Davis’ bill. Committee Republicans will determine the outcome.

Tom Davis will not be leaving it to sound bites and press releases. That’s for the show horse. This Virginia workhorse has a difficult mission to do what no Whig, Federalist, Democrat or Republican has been able to do in two centuries -- bring full civil rights to Washington, D.C. But I’m not betting against him.

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