Former Congressman Mike Ross officially kicked off his campaign for governor Wednesday and did so in a very odd way. Ross has usually taken a pro-life stance throughout his career in Congress. In his final term, he had a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life.
But Wednesday, he decided to stake out a pro-choice position by offering repeated criticism for some pro-life laws passed this year by the state legislature despite having voted for an almost identical abortion ban for Washington, D.C. while in Congress.
Ross took aim specifically at two pro-life laws which ban abortion at the point at which an unborn child can experience pain (20 weeks) and when a heartbeat can be detected by an ultrasound (12 weeks).
“These were clearly nothing more than attacks on women,” the AP reported Ross saying this morning after his announcement. “These were bills to give partisan legislators ammunition to use in their next campaign that in litigation is going to cost the state tens of millions of dollars. That’s tens of millions of dollars they could be spending on education and economic development.”
Wait – what? An “attack on women?”
Needless to say, this did not sit well with state legislators who passed these bills by large bi-partisan margins.
“I’m very disappointed in the comments made by Congressman Ross,” said Rep. Andy Mayberry who was lead sponsor on the Pain Capable Abortion Ban Bill. “Protecting innocent babies who feel pain from suffering a tortuous death is certainly not a ‘war on women.’ It is a natural, moral defense of the most weak and vulnerable among us. Thankfully, the pain-capable bill was supported by an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate, including Republicans, Democrats and the Green Party. Their votes were reflective of the people they represent — a majority of Arkansans who place high value on the sanctity of human life. Again, these were disappointing comments from a man who would ask us to choose him as our leader.”
The comments follow a robocall which sought to attack Ross for his pro-life stands and tie him to Sen. Jason Rapert – the lead sponsor of the Heartbeat bill. The robocall was from a group called Protecting Our Jobs and tied a vote Ross cast in Congress to defend Planned Parenthood to Sen. Rapert’s Heartbeat Bill.
In a follow up interview, I asked Ross in light of these comments, where he stands on the issue of abortion.
“My position has never changed. I am personally opposed to abortion. My position is the same as Gov. Beebe’s – I think from a public policy standpoint it should safe, legal, and rare,” said Ross.
This clear pro-choice statement is a departure from votes as recent as the past few years. For example, Ross not only voted for the “No Taxpayer Funds for Abortion” bill but was a co-sponsor on the measure. You may recall this was the bill that the left beat up Rep. Todd Akin with after he used the phrase “forcible rape” as found in this bill. Ross also voted to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011 not once, but twice.
He even voted in 2012 for the Washington D.C. version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This was a bill pushed by the National Right to Life and is the exact same bill as was passed in Arkansas banning abortion at 20 weeks.
In other words, while in Congress he voted to impose the exact same restrictions on the District of Columbia as he now says is an “attack on women” here in Arkansas.
The move appears to be an attempt by Ross to move to the left in anticipation for his Democratic primary race against Bill Halter who – unlike Ross – has never had to convince people he is a Democrat. Love Halter or hate him, you know where he stands. It also seems to be a strategy to specifically reach Democratic female voters, who are critical to winning a Democratic primary.
But the tilt away for his previous pro-life positions is problematic on several levels.
“Arkansas is still a pro-life state and Mike Ross is making a mistake if he believes otherwise,” said Rose Mimms director of Arkansas Right to Life.
Indeed, while his flip-flop may help him in the primary if he can convince Democratic voters he is now pro-choice, it could definitely hurt him in November in a socially conservative state.
For another, he is indirectly attacking pro-life Democratic state legislators such as Sen. Bruce Maloch who voted for both bills and could be the Democratic nominee in the Fourth District for Congress. Maloch was at Ross’s announcement at the state capitol wearing a Mike Ross for Governor sticker, but declined to comment on Ross’s statement.
“A lot of people probably feel that way I suppose,” said Sen. Larry Teague, a Democrat who also lives in Ross’s district. “I voted for the bills, so obviously we disagree.”
But Ross did not back down when asked specifically about the pro-life Democratic state legislators.
“I am saying the attacks on woman must stop,” said Ross. “I am saying that we don’t need to go back and debate the same social policies that we have been debating since the 70’s, that are largely going to be decided by the courts.”
The question now is: Will Democratic voters buy Ross’s extreme make-over on abortion and will pro-life voters be turned off if he makes it through the primary to November?
This pro-life voter is certainly disappointed.
UPDATE – On Thursday morning, Ross was asked by Alice Stewart on her radio show about his vote in Congress for an identical bill as passed by the legislature.
“No, that’s not true,” said Ross denying the claim and instead insisting that this was an attack from the extreme right and extreme left.
But the record disagrees. Here is the roll call from July 31, 2012 where Congressman Ross voted for the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which imposed the same 20-week ban on abortion as the Arkansas Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill Ross voted for was the exact same bill as in Arkansas with only one difference – the Arkansas bill has an exception for rape or incest, while the one Ross voted for does not have such an exception. In other words, Ross voted for a more restrictive bill.
This is not an attack; it is his record. Does Ross have convenient amnesia on his votes or is he being disingenuous?
UPDATE II – Both the Halter and Ross campaigns have put out statements, but the story is basically the same – Ross voted for a bill that he now claims he would veto. It could be the biggest flip-flop on the opening day of a campaign ever.
“Women will be outraged to learn that Mike Ross now claims to be their champion when his own record clearly demonstrates otherwise,” said Halter campaign spokesman Bud Jackson. “Mike Ross’s words today versus his record from before shows that his Arkansas values change with each office he seeks,” he also tweeted.
Meanwhile the Ross campaign responded to my questions regarding his vote for the same bill that he now calls an “attack on women” with a complete dodge and canned pro-choice statement.
“Mike Ross is pro-life, but, like Governor Beebe, believes abortion should be safe, legal and rare,” said Brad Howard, Ross campaign spokesperson. “And, as governor, he would have done just what Gov. Beebe did and he would vetoed both abortion bills. In his announcement, Mike Ross said that instead of focusing on these divisive issues, we should come together as a state and focus on education, economic development and job creation – issues Mike Ross will campaign on and issues Mike Ross will lead on as our next governor.”
“Safe, legal, and rare” is the standard answer of every pro-choice politician pretending to be a little bit pro-life. Ross has not answered the question regarding his vote and his statement being in direct conflict. This story will stay alive until he does.