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Dennis Ross' Star is Ascending in Washington

October 1, 2014 - 6:00pm
Dont look now, but Dennis Ross is starting to move up the ladder in Washington.

Ross was one of the beneficiaries in Congress this June when Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary in a stunner. In the reshuffling of the GOP leadership, Kevin McCarthy moved up to become House majority leader, taking Cantors spot. Steve Scalise slid over to McCarthys old post as GOP whip and brought Ross in as part of his team. Now Ross is a senior deputy whip and, as he turns 55 later this month, he could be able to rise even higher in Congress.

Its a pretty stunning change from the path Ross had been on in Tallahassee, where the leadership removed him from a committee chairmanship when he stood up for free-market principles. Back in 2007, Ross was one of two legislators in Tallahassee who voted against Citizens Property Insurance, insisting that the state government shouldnt be competing with private insurers.

Ross was no political newcomer when he led the hopeless fight against Citizens, which helps explain his dramatic rise in Congress. Back in 1982, Ross started his political career as an aide to Dennis Jones, a longtime Republican legislator then serving in the House. Becoming one of the leading attorneys in Central Florida, including serving as an in-house counsel to Walt Disney World, Ross moved up the local Republican ranks, eventually becoming chairman of the Polk County GOP. After a failed bid for a Florida Senate seat in 1996, Ross was elected to the Florida House in 2000 after Adam Putnam decided to run for Congress.

Despite losing his chairmanship in Tallahassee, Ross had the last laugh. After facing term limits in 2008, he made plans to run for Congress in 2010, once again following in Putnams wake. Ross got in the race early and was able to hold off John Lindsey in the primary. Despite a credible Democratic opponent in Lori Edwards and a threat from the right in Randy Wilkinson running on the tea party line and syphoning off conservative support, Ross scored an impressive win.

Fittingly enough, given his fight in Tallahassee, Ross sits on the Financial Services Committee, the Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee and the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee. Ross has generally stuck with his free-market principles on fiscal matters and has been recognized by the National Taxpayers Union and other conservative groups.

Still, as was the case in Tallahassee, Ross isnt easily led and has no problems with taking on the Republican leadership. Ross was very critical of Republican efforts during last years federal shutdown battle and questioned the wisdom of linking the shutdown to defunding Obamacare. Despite this, Ross has become part of the GOP leadership, hitching his wagon to the conservative Scalise.

With November looming, Ross wont have as easy a time as he did in the last election cycle since he faced no opposition in 2012. That isnt the case this time out. Alan Cohn, a former television investigative reporter, is running hard as the Democrat in the race and has shown no hesitation in taking shots at Ross. Still, Ross is the favorite and his district is based around Polk County which has generally rewarded Republicans. But this wont be a cakewalk since Cohn has enough polish and skills to make Ross work for it. Cohn is also getting some help from the national Democrats, including from Patrick Kennedy who was at a fundraising event for him this week. Ross is running TV ads in the final weeks of the contest.

But, when push comes to shove, Ross is a near lock to return to Congress and continue his time in the GOP leadership. While there certainly are Republicans from Florida with more seniority and power on Capitol Hill -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John Mica, Ander Crenshaw and Jeff Miller come to mind -- Ross is moving up quickly. Hes already one of the most important congressmen from Florida and that wont change any time soon.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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