William Pat Jennings

Pat Jennings served as U.S. Representative from the Ninth District from 1955 to 1967. Jennings, a Democrat, served in World War II, and was elected sheriff of Smyth County, Virginia, serving from 1947 to 1954. Jennings defeated Republican Rep. William C. Wampler in a close election (a 999 vote margin) in 1954 to win his seat in the "Fighting Ninth." Wampler refused to concede defeat and contested the electoral returns, charging Democrats in Southwest with fraud. Federal election officials investigated and declared Jennings the winner. Early in his Congressional career, Jennings broke with the Byrd Organization Democrats in the Virginia delegation. He pushed for federal spending measures for social services and for the coal region he represented. He supported labor unions, and in 1961 Jennings called for repeal of the poll tax. Conservative Democrats, such as Delegate T. Coleman Andrews of Richmond and Congressman Howard Smith of Alexandria, considered Jennings an "ultra-liberal." Jennings, however, voted against pieces of civil rights legislation, including the fair employment and public accommodations sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he considered these a violation of individual rights of business owners to hire and promote. Ironically, Jennings was defeated by his old rival William C. Wampler in 1966 after the dismantling of the poll tax opened Virginia's electorate. Republicans registered in unforeseen numbers and a record turnout contributed to Jennings' loss.