Mike Ross Proves You Can Teach a Blue Dog New Tricks

Then-Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., announces in Little Rock, Ark., Monday, July 25, 2011, that he will not seek a seventh term in Congress.
National Journal
Cameron Smith
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Cameron Smith
Aug. 26, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

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.

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