Joe was born in Kentucky in a family of strong Christian faith, a faith he has passed on to his own three children. His father was an Army chaplain during World War II, serving in the South Pacific. After the war, the elder Pitts returned to the Philippines with his wife and children to serve as a missionary in a war-ravaged country. It was there, where he saw the after-affects of war, that Joe developed a heart for human rights and commitment to a strong defense. General Douglas MacArthur, a warrior who humbled an empire and taught it to be a democracy, was a childhood hero.
After high school, Joe attended Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. It was there that he met the former Virginia Pratt, now his wife of some 50 years. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1961, Joe and Ginny both got jobs as teachers in Kentucky public schools. They also started a family. Their oldest daughter, Karen, was born at this time, followed in coming years by their second daughter Carol and son Daniel.
Joe taught math, science, English, and physical education, as well as coaching basketball. After Karen was born, Ginny wanted to stay home and be a full-time mother, but teachers in Kentucky didn’t make much in those days and Joe couldn’t support a growing family on his income. So in 1963, he walked into an Air Force recruiting office and signed up for Officer Training School.
Air Force Captain
Joe served five and a half years in the Air Force, with three tours in Vietnam. Initially commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was promoted to captain by the time he left the service. He graduated second in his class from Navigator School, after which he was trained as an Electronic Warfare officer. As an EW officer, he served on B-52s out of Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, with payloads of nuclear bombs. When America committed itself to the Vietnam conflict, he rotated out of Guam, Okinawa, and Thailand. In all, he completed 116 combat missions and earned an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. Today he is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5467 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. To hear Joe talk about his service, click here.
In 1969, Joe decided it was time he returned home to raise his family and left the Air Force. This time, he and Ginny settled down where she had grown up outside Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Joe and Ginny both got jobs as schoolteachers. Joe taught math and science at Great Valley High School in northeastern Chester County and once again coached basketball. Ginny taught at Upland Country Day School, where she continued teaching until 1996. On the side, Joe started a small landscape nursery business.
Once they had settled in Pennsylvania, Joe enlisted his entire family in a major task: building their own home from scratch. Joe and his father led the family in performing every task of construction that didn’t require heavy machinery or licensed labor. Joe and Ginny still live in that home; solidly built, it has served them well.
In 1972, Joe began his 24 year tenure as a Pennsylvania State Representative. Joe immediately established a reputation as an effective and honest legislator. Over the years, he became a leader in the causes of farmland and open space preservation, fiscal restraint, and traditional values. One of his first bills to become law was "Clean and Green"—legislation to allow farmers to pay their property taxes on the basis of use value rather than assessed value.
He was a key player behind the 1990 Abortion Control Act. Every time there was a tax cut, Joe was there fighting to make sure it happened. Joe soon became Chairman of the Committee on Labor Relations and was then elected by his colleagues as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a very powerful post. At home, Joe worked tirelessly to help his neighbors, helping individuals with state applications and defending farmers and businessmen from what he likes to call "bureaucrats flying under the radar."
During all his years as a state legislator, Joe reserved time for the family-run tree nursery. Joe’s trees still dot the landscape all over southern Chester County.
In 1997, Joe was sworn into Congress replacing Congressman Bob Walker.
When Joe took office in Washington for the first time in January of 1997, he brought with him the skills of a seasoned legislator, the discipline of an Air Force veteran, and the practical outlook of a small businessman. His new colleagues instantly recognized his abilities and he was awarded spots on the Budget Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Small Business Committee. The Majority Whip, well aware of Joe’s leadership skills, appointed him an assistant whip.
The leaders of the House also soon realized that Joe had a special relationship with many pro-family groups and asked him to chair the Values Action Team, a new organization dedicated to building cooperation between traditional values oriented Members and similarly-minded citizen groups.
In his first term, Joe made balancing the national budget and improving road safety at home two of his top priorities. The result was the first of a series of balanced federal budgets and $33 million worth of long-overdue road improvements at home.
In his second term, which began in January of 1999, Joe switched from the Transportation Committee to the House Armed Services Committee—keeping his posts on the Budget Committee and the Small Business Committee. Our military readiness had suffered from several years of under-funding. Joe was outspoken about the need to provide for military personnel, both in terms of compensation and equipment. As a former Electronic Warfare Officer in the Air Force, Joe recognized a very serious danger: our research and development in radar detection and evasion technologies were lagging. Joe formed the bipartisan Electronic Warfare Working Group to educate his colleagues on the need to stay ahead of the curve in technology. "The cost of failure," he said, "will be American lives." Joe also worked hard to acquire funding for the preservation of the Brandywine Battlefield in Chester County. The site of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War was threatened by development. He succeeded in obtaining federal funds to preserve this precious historical resource.
In his third term, Joe switched committees entirely. He holds a coveted seat on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, one of the House’s most powerful panels. He has also took a spot on the International Relations Committee, allowing him to advocate for human rights improvements around the world.
In his fourth term, Joe took a more visible role on each of these committees. As the vice-chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights, he became widely recognized as a principled, respected voice on international human rights issues such as religious freedom, trafficking in persons, refugee and IDP issues, HIV/AIDS relief, and foreign aid. Focusing in particular on issues facing Burma, Pakistan, Kashmir, Western Sahara, Central Asia and Afghanistan, Congressman Pitts has worked to help his constituents plug in to America's foreign policy by offering them ways to assist in sending aid to people in need overseas. To this end, he has spearheaded the delivery of mobile dispensaries, ambulances, combines, and other vital equipment and supplies to impoverished areas around the world. This "people-to-people" style diplomacy helps the American people take ownership of their foreign policy, rather than waiting for Washington to act.
During his sixth term, Joe took leave from the International Relations Committee to focus his efforts exclusively on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, the committee that oversees energy, environmental, health, trade, and technology issues.
In his seventh term, Joe continued to serve exclusively on the Energy and Commerce Committee on the the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, as well as the Health Subcommittee, and was added to the important Energy and Environment Subcommittee. During this term, the Congressman was recognized as a leader on wireless privacy issues, medical devices and medical imaging technology, as well as oversight of federal agencies that fall within the committee's jurisdiction.
In his eighth term, Joe was appointed by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. He continued to also serve on the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee. Joe led efforts to repeal President Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act. He worked to author and pass into law the bipartisan Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.
In his ninth term, Joe again serves as the Chairman of the Health Subcommittee. He is continuing to lead efforts to roll back and repeal the new health law and replace it with legislation that would reduce medical costs and make insurance easier to purchase and keep. He also is working to modernize and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid to preserve them for future generations.
Joe often says that he goes down to Washington "to bring our values to the government, and to stop the government from imposing its values on us." Joe Pitts is your congressman. He’s the man we have elected to represent our part of the country when big decisions are made. He wants to know what you have to say about the issues, and he wants to help you whenever you have a problem with the federal government. If you need to contact Congressman Pitts—if you want to provide input, if you need his aid, or if you just want to tell him he’s doing a great job—please give him a call.