Dennis Ross’ latest gig: Develop college program in civics, civility
Dennis Ross provided a key talking point in the discussion of public housing reform. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Dennis Ross

Dennis Rossthe Republican congressman from the 15th Congressional Districtjoined Southeastern University President Kent Ingle to announce the retiring congressman’s new job during a Wednesday news conference.

The Lakeland Republican is becoming part of a major center for the teaching of government and civics both for students and the general public.

Upon his departure from the U.S. House in early January, Ross will join the SEU faculty in his hometown as Distinguished Professor of Political Science launching the American Center for Political Leadership.

University officials and Ross said the institution would be a “nonpartisan center dedicated to research, academic programs, courses, workshops and resources that will prepare the next generation of political leaders and passionate citizens who aim to promote traditional American values and individual freedoms.”

In recent years Ross had expressed concern over the lack of understanding of government and the loss of civics and history education in public schools.

In Congress, he had sponsored with then-Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham, a bipartisan resolution to encourage elementary and secondary schools to administer U.S. history and civics tests and to promote civics education among students.

His often-voiced concerns over the lack of civility in Washington and the lack of understanding of civic affairs among many Americans may have partially affected his decision not to run again.

“Over the years I have grown concerned over the lack of civics education among young people,” Ross said to the heavily attended conference for the announcement of the center.

Many adults also do not understand the history and civics of the nation.

“The Wall Street Journal noted (in a survey by The Woodrow Wilson Foundation) that only one in three Americans could pass the same test required of immigrants who must pass it to become naturalized citizens.

“Only 24 percent could identify what Ben Franklin was famous for and only one-third of citizens could identify a right guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said.

“Only half the citizens eligible to be voters are registered. And only half of those vote regularly,” Ross said. “Only 25 percent of that universe (of those eligible to register and vote) control the policies of our government. So when you say, ‘How in the world did that person get elected?’ The electors know.”

During questions from the audience Ross, a conservative Republican, said the center would indeed be nonpartisan for all to understand and promote a civil process.

Ingle said the center would empower the next generation of leaders with three primary goals: protecting individual freedom, encouraging civic engagement and advancing civility.

“The center will become a national platform for these issues,” he said.

When Ross announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to a fifth term it set off a stampede of primary candidates from both major parties.

The shape and number designation of the district have changed through the years, but the general area had had a Republican congressman since 1984 when then U.S. Rep. Andy Ireland changed his party registration from Democrat to the GOP.

The current race to replace Ross in the 15th Congressional District between attorney Kristen Carlson, a Lakeland Democrat and Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover has been termed a “toss up” by at least two groups devoted to assessing political campaigns.

Southeastern University describes itself as a Christ-centered institution of higher learning in Lakeland with 8,759 students from the 50 states and more than 33 countries offering 80 degreed programs.

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”


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