In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Talk Business, retiring Rep. Mike Ross (D) reflected on nearly 12 years in Congress and his 22-year journey in elected office.
In January, he'll end his final term in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he's represented the conservative-leaning Fourth Congressional District of Arkansas since his election in 2000 when he beat incumbent Republican Cong. Jay Dickey. He served a decade in the Arkansas State Senate before entering the Congressional race.
Newcomer Congressman-elect Tom Cotton (R) will represent the Fourth District after his win in November.
Next year, Ross will take a job in the private sector working for Southwest Power Pool, a non-profit electricity transmission coordinator based in Little Rock. He'll serve as their director of Governmental Affairs and Public Relations.
Ross' interview, which you can listen to in its entirety here, discussed some of the major challenges of his Congressional career including the 9/11 attacks during his first term, the war on terror, the health care reform debate, and the Great Recession.
Ross, 51, also shares his thoughts on the 2014 Arkansas election season – which he'll watch from the sidelines – and he comments on the state of American politics, his own potential political future, and how he'll continue public service as a private citizen.
Some outtakes from the interview:
His proudest achievements – “I don't think there's any one thing you can name. I can tell you I'm proud that during my time there we raised the minimum wage, we cut student loan interest rates in half, we passed the single largest increase in veterans' health care funding in the history of the VA, and keeping America safe in this post-9/11 era.”
On 9/11 – “I think if we were honest with one another on September 11, 2001, or on September 12, 2001, if you went out on the street and asked people, 'Do you think there will be another attack on America this decade?,' I think most people would have said, 'Yes.' Hopefully, the things that we have done, the policies that we have passed have helped make America more safe.”
Toughest challenge in Congress – “I can tell you a lot of people think the health care debate was one of the toughest things we dealt with, it was actually the recession. And I took a big hit for it. People to this day continue to criticize me for some of the votes I made under President Bush in 2007 and President Obama in 2008. But I'm telling you, I was in a lot of closed-door meetings with economists who aren't Democrats or Republicans. There was no debate over whether we were headed for a deep recession and probably a depression. The only debate in that room among the economists was whether we were days away or weeks away.”
On the war in Iraq – “I regret my vote on going to war in Iraq. I sat in the White House with the President [Bush] and I'll never forget what he said. He said Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and if military force is required, it will be 'swift' was the word he gave us… Look, there's evil dictators all over the world. There's no doubt Sadaam was an evil guy, but he didn't have nuclear weapons, he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and you know America has paid the price through the loss of lives, through soldiers that are injured in ways that will forever change their lives, and through the enormous amount of money we spent which helped contribute to this debt that we have today. Fighting in that war, and like I said, there's evil dictators all over the world, but we can't police the world. I think had we not done what we did in Iraq, I think we could have perhaps been more focused on what we were doing in Afghanistan, which I certainly supported.”
Will he get behind a candidate for Governor in 2014? – “No, I don't think so. Look, I wish them all well. We'll let the voters decide. I never have believed that endorsements really matter in Arkansas any way. People are pretty independent. They study the issues. The voters here are smart – a lot smarter than some people give them credit… If I wanted to be actively involved in the Governor's race, I would have run myself.”