Just 30 years old, John Davis didn't plan on a career in politics – but when the opportunity arose he was ready
By Sara Kelm
Running for public office is often like running a marathon. Candidates lace up their shoes over a year in advance of the finish line, and the campaign is all about endurance: attending debates, shaking hands, waving during parades.
Not so for John Davis, 2005 George Fox graduate and newly elected Oregon state representative. His run for office was more of a sprint.
In May 2012, Davis was working as a lawyer in downtown Portland and enjoying his newborn son, William, when the Republican primary selected the incumbent to run in District 26. In June, a scandal ended the incumbent’s re-election bid, leaving the district with no Republican candidate five months before the election.
A mentor once told Davis to “always make the decision that opens the door.” So when the opportunity for public service presented itself, Davis decided to take a chance. He opened the door and ran right through it.
Politics: Not the original plan
Davis hadn’t planned on being a politician. From an early age he was an entrepreneur – a “computer geek” who started a business helping elderly people learn computer basics.
But he didn’t have a clear direction until becoming a Christian in high school. Almost immediately, he felt a clear calling to serve others. ”I was given this spirit of wanting to reach out, wanting to touch other people,” he explains.
That spirit led him to George Fox University. Though Davis had planned on joining the Marines, he visited George Fox and felt drawn to the campus “almost inexplicably.” He threw himself into his studies, earning a double major in religion and interdisciplinary studies, the latter of which combined biblical studies and sociology.
His unique study combination prepared him for his future professions. Davis says the religion courses taught him about the fallibility of man, which informs how he views society and the political system. The sociology classes, meanwhile, took philosophies out of Scripture and into the world.
Davis was also impacted by George Fox’s culture of service. His courses asked in-depth questions: How can these theories be applied practically? What does theology look like outside of the classroom? How does service and making a difference happen beyond a university setting?
It was during this time that he met and married his wife Sarah Boehr, a biology major at George Fox who would go on to graduate in 2004. He was drawn toward politics, but knew it wasn’t the right time. “I knew I had more preparation I needed to go through as a person,” he says.
John Davis takes the oath of office at the Oregon State Capitol building.
Open doors for service
After graduation, the Davises spent a year in Southern California working with AmeriCorp. They ran a nonprofit that served families living around penitentiaries. It was eye-opening for them both. Sarah saw people who were stuck in jobs they disliked, and knew she wanted something different. “I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to do something great,” she recalls. The answer was nursing.
John enjoyed running the nonprofit, but felt it wasn’t his calling. Instead, he decided to go to law school. “It wasn’t because I had a great desire to be a lawyer,” he explains, “but rather because law was at the intersection of service, business, public policy – three things I knew I wanted to be involved with.”
So both Davises went back to school. John attended Willamette University School of Law, where he graduated first in his class. Sarah completed the accelerated nursing program at Oregon Health & Science University and began working in the pediatric intensive care unit at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. She hasn’t left.
Sarah works with critically ill children ranging from newborns to young adults. Every day is a unique challenge. “It’s an honor to be able to be in the families’ lives and to be able to make a terrible situation a little better,” she says.
John, meanwhile, practices law at McEwen Gisvold LLP, and also works with Young Life and a nonprofit organization he helped found, Emerging Leaders of Oregon.
“A very clear calling”
When the door opened for John to run for public office in June 2012, the Davises simply had to look back through the doors they walked through to see how God had prepared them for this opportunity.
John’s business experience gives him insight into Oregon’s economic issues. His George Fox education makes him keenly aware of social issues. AmeriCorp taught him how to run a nonprofit. His God-given passion for public service made him a strong proponent of people. And his integrity and stable family were a welcome relief to District 26 after the recent political scandal.
Sprinting through this open door was a “very clear calling,” he says. “I felt called to marry my wife, I felt called to become a Christian, I felt called to go to law school, and I really did feel called to run for this office.”
A local boy with no skeletons in his closet, the voters of his district saw Davis as the right person for the job. “People looked at us and said, ‘That’s great. We don’t need any more scandal; we don’t need any more questions; we need someone we can trust,’” John says.
Davis also has a different perspective on public office than some of his fellow politicians. “For some people, being elected as state representative will be the most important title they are ever given, and it’s easy for that to go to your head,” he says. But as a Christian, he’s mindful that his position was given to him by the Lord, and it could be taken away at any moment. Davis’ conviction is that his identity not be wrapped up in his title, but rather informed by the service to which his faith calls him.
So, on Nov. 6, 2012, John Davis was called to serve his community in the Oregon State House of Representatives. All because he went through an open door – or dozens of them.