After 12 years in the House representing the 4th District of Arkansas, Mike Ross is running for governor, in hopes of practicing politics outside the Beltway.
"The campaign isn't that different," says Ross, 52. "Frankly, it's easier to travel the state now," pointing out that his campaign operations are based in Little Rock, which Ross says is more central than his longtime home in Prescott.
Ross, who is married with two grown children, says he wasn't sure what the future would hold when he decided to retire from the House after the 112th Congress. "I wasn't fed up with politics," he says. "I was just fed up with Washington."
After leaving the House, Ross worked at the Little Rock-based nonprofit Southwest Power Pool, a group that oversees compliance enforcement and reliability standards development within the electric-power industry. But after high-profile Democrats withdrew their names from Arkansas's 2014 gubernatorial contest, Ross says, he received "e-mails, letters, phone calls—about 800—from people asking me to run." He declared his candidacy in April.
"It wasn't something that I planned to be doing," Ross admits. "It was really a grassroots thing."
The chips have all fallen into place for Ross, who thinks "state governments are really where the action is." Ross, like many other retired members of Congress, found the inactivity and gridlock in Washington nearly impossible to deal with.
As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats, Ross was known for being independent and not beholden to the Democratic Party's wishes. He says he often wanted to work across party lines but became frustrated with "the blind partisanship that dominates Congress."
After the 112th Congress, many members of the Blue Dog Coalition took their expertise and their efforts outside the Beltway, where they could help local communities directly, without having to deal with the partisanship in Washington. That left the group "spread out across our different regions," Ross said.
"The Blue Dog Coalition was a tight-knit group, he said. "It's like a family. That was one of the toughest parts of leaving the job, knowing that we would all be spread out across the country."
Ross says he stays in touch with all of his fellow Blue Dog colleagues and adds that he "got to see a few of them," when he was in D.C. for a fundraiser for his gubernatorial campaign. But most of the communication he has with his former colleagues is through phone calls, text messages, and e-mails.
"Those are life long friends."
National Journal Daily's Where Are They Now series catches up with lawmakers who left office in January to find out what they are doing. It will run throughout August.