“Why We Left Congress”: Excerpts of Our Conversation with Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL)

Four-term Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2010 midterm elections. Ross first represented Florida’s 12th Congressional District. He has represented Florida’s 15th Congressional District since the district lines were redrawn following the 2010 census.

In Congress, Ross has held a number of roles, including serving as a senior deputy whip for House Republicans and the vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee on housing and insurance. An alumnus of Samford University’s law school, Ross founded his own law firm specializing in workers’ compensation cases prior to his career in Congress and previously worked as the in-house counsel for Walt Disney World.

In April, Ross announced that he would not seek re-election, but said that his next chapter “will include, in some way, continued public service.”

In September, Ross, along with fellow outgoing Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), appeared at an exit interview event on Capitol Hill hosted by the R Street Institute. Issue One and the R Street Institute compiled the following excerpts from Ross’ remarks there for the “Why We Left Congress” project, a joint report about congressional dysfunction and what can be done to fix it, based on exit interviews with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who decided not to run for re-election in 2018.

On how he raised money while in Congress:

I come from a rural area where I have to raise about one, two million dollars in order to run a campaign, and then do some fundraising for the party in addition. I can’t do that locally, so you’ll travel. You’ll travel to more affluent areas around the country and do events to be able to do that.

On the party dues system:

There is no doubt that in order to maintain your majority, in order to gain a majority, you have to raise money to do that, and you have to go out and recruit and fund like-minded candidates so that you can get there. And there are requirements that if you’re on certain committees that you have to raise so much money to assist in the overall effort … Money is part of the process, we know the other side’s doing it, we’ve gotta do that. We all have free speech, but getting it out there ain’t free. And so you’ve gotta be able to afford the media.

On why so many fundraising messages contain such partisan rhetoric:

If you want to raise money on your base, you polarize the other side. That’s just a fact of reality.

On the importance of bipartisanship:

If you want to accomplish something in this process that’s going to be good, you have to do it, in my opinion, in a bipartisan fashion.

On the importance of government transparency:

In order to have faith in government, you have to have some sense of transparency to see what is going on.

On the value of transparency regarding campaign financing:

If you don’t like where they’re getting their money from, then vote against them.

One rules change he thinks would make Congress function better:

I would like to see us have a procedure that says if you get 225 cosponsors on any bill, [then] that [bill] has an automatic opportunity to be heard in committee. And if it comes out of committee, it ought to be [voted upon] on the floor, up or down.

On House leadership:

Being speaker is one of the most thankless jobs there absolutely is.

His advice to incoming members of Congress:

When you get elected you are so overwhelmed with having just run a successful campaign. The next thing you have to do is open up an office, not only up here but also in the district. Be involved in the hiring of the personnel just to the extent at least that you get to know them before they’re in the job because loyalty is one of the rarest qualities to find in this particular process … Make sure you don’t surround yourself with “yes people.” You need somebody to keep you humble because everybody else up there will do their best to inflate your ego.

On what it takes to be a successful member of Congress:

You have to be anchored to something outside of this process, whether it be faith or family. You have to remember that this is a job —  it’s what you do, it’s not who you are.

Want to read more about this topic? Check out the full “Why We Left Congress” report, written by Marian Currinder of the R Street Institute and Michael Beckel and Amisa Ratliff of Issue One.