Joe Henderson: Dennis Ross never wanted to be congressman for life
Dennis Ross.

Dennis Ross

A few years ago, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross dropped by the editorial board of the Tampa Tribune for a chat. As metro columnist, I was invited to attend.

I don’t recall specifics about the meeting, but I do remember Ross saying emphatically that he didn’t want to be a career politician. He said it with such conviction that I actually believed him. He has repeated that position many other times, in many other places.

On Wednesday, he backed that up with the announcement he will not run for a fifth term to represent CD 15 in Washington.

“After thoughtful prayer and consideration, my wife Cindy and I decided that I will not seek re-election for a fifth-term in office. I am grateful for this incredible opportunity to serve and I look forward to the next chapter of my life which will include, in some way, continued public service,” he said in a statement on Twitter and his Facebook page.

“I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career. My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”

This announcement was overshadowed by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s news that he, too, is stepping away. That brings the total of Republican members of Congress who won’t run for re-election this fall to 25.

Some of them were no doubt concerned about being swept away if the anticipated Democratic blue wave this November materializes. Ross, though, had no such worries.

His district, which is about 40 percent in Polk County as well as rural parts of eastern Hillsborough, is reliably ultra conservative. Ross likely could have kept going back to Washington for as long as he wished.

He has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association. He is pro-life, supported President Trump’s tax cut plan and immigration proposals, and was working his way up the House leadership ranks as senior deputy majority whip.

But he also is 58 years old and commuting between Lakeland and Washington is a hassle. He says he will return to practicing law and civic pursuits, like he always said he planned to do.

Who takes his place?

Well, it probably will not be a Democrat. The “blue wave” would have to turn into a flood of biblical proportions for this seat to fall from Republican hands.

Among Republicans, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd will draw some attention as a potential candidate. State Sen. Kelli Stargel could be formidable.

One name I heard tossed as a “what-about-this-guy” possibility is state Sen. Tom Lee, but who knows about that?

He has basically gone dark in the last few weeks while speculation increases that he won’t make a planned run for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer position, after saying for months it was his intention to run.

Lee had said he would announce his plans shortly after Easter and, well, Easter in the rear-view mirror and we haven’t heard anything.

But this day is about Dennis Ross, and this one time we can actually believe it when he says he has had enough.

When the job becomes more about raising money and wondering what will come out next from the president’s Twitter account, heading home to Lakeland for family, friends and weekend hunting trips can sound pretty nice.

As enticing as that sounds to Ross today, it will sound even better in January.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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