Stan Parris, Rest In Peace

“Merging the District of Columbia into Maryland?” fumed then D.C. City Council Chairman John Wilson in 1990 when I asked him about a proposal by Rep. Stan Parris (R.-Va.) to give the District a vote for senators and U.S. representative by doing just that. “I think the [Republican primary] voters of Virginia showed just what they thought of that individual when they rejected him for governor last year!” 

Of course, he was upset by the idea of six-term Rep. Parris (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 82%) because making the Nation’s Capital a part of Maryland would end the political clout of local Democratic satraps such as then-Mayor Marion Barry and Wilson himself. 

When Parris died March 27 after a long battle with heart disease, that was how he was remembered by most residents of the D.C., area: as one of the most spirited battlers in the effort to keep Washington, D.C., from becoming the 51st state. 

Battler is an appropriate way to characterize the blunt, combative Stanford Parris.  Born in Champaign, Ill., he lost his father while a child and worked his way through the University of Illinois. As a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War, Parris was nearly killed when his jet was shot down over North Korea. But Parris was rescued and decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. 

During interviews with me, Parris would often digress to talk of the years after his discharge when he ran a mimeograph machine in the U.S. Capitol while attending law school nights at George Washington University. He would speak of watching Democratic Senators John Kennedy (Mass.) and Lyndon Johnson (Tex.) and Vice President Richard Nixon as they prepared for their rendezvous in presidential politics.

“That’s what I wanted to do—politics,” recalled Parris. 

He did. After a decade of practicing law in Northern Virginia, Parris won a seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and then went on to win election to the state House of Delegates in 1969. Three years later, he achieved his dream of serving in Congress with his election as a U.S. representative.

But it didn’t last long. Caught up in the so-called Watergate Year of 1974, Parris was unseated by his old nemesis on the county board, leftist Democrat Herb Harris. Parris later suffered a heart attack, which he blamed on losing to Harris.

But even defeat and a heart attack could not keep Parris down. Following a stint as secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he roared back in 1980 and defeated Harris—thus making Parris the lone Republican House casualty of ’74 ever to return to Congress. In ’82, he won the rubber match with Harris and later told me, “If I’m best remembered for ending the political career of Herb Harris, I’ll die happy.” 

Beaten in GOP primaries for governor in 1985 and ’89, Parris would serve eight more years in Congress, and rise to become ranking Republican on the House D.C. Committee. But his district was changing and pro-statehood forces from the District began bankrolling his opponents. In 1990, Parris was unseated by Democrat Jim Moran. 

With his car dealerships and other properties, the former congressman never had to worry about money. But, as his friend and fellow former Virginia Republican Rep. (1994-2008) Tom Davis recalled, “Stan still came up to Capitol Hill and sat in the back of the chamber and just listened to the debate. To the end, he was a man of the House.”