LITTLE ROCK, — U.S. Rep. Mike Ross said Monday he won’t seek the Democratic nomination for Arkansas governor in 2014, upending a race that he was widely expected to join after opting against a re-election bid this year.
Ross announced that instead of seeking the party’s nomination, he will take a job with the Southwest Power Pool as its senior vice president for government affairs and public relations. The nonprofit power pool, based in Little Rock, manages electric services for 65 utilities in a nine-state area.
Last year, Ross said he wouldn’t seek a seventh term representing south Arkansas’ 4th District as he mulled a potential gubernatorial run.
"As a result, instead of campaigning and raising money, I have been able to spend more time, including weekends, with my family for the past year. We have enjoyed getting back to a more normal way of life after 22 continuous years of elective service," Ross said. "This led me to the realization that there is life after politics."
A spokesman for Ross said the congressman wasn’t available to comment further Monday afternoon.
Ross’ decision shakes up a gubernatorial race that many believed he had been preparing for long before his retirement announcement last year. He has spent recent weeks speaking to groups outside his south Arkansas district and speaking out on state issues, including his opposition to raising Arkansas’ severance tax on natural gas for highway improvements. Ross said last month he wouldn’t decide on the race until sometime next year.
The announcement caught Democrats off guard as they’re trying to prevent losses in a state that has moved more to the right in recent years. Republicans are confident they can win control of the state Legislature, and claim Ross’ House seat this fall and a party spokeswoman said that’s where the GOP’s focus is now.
"We’ve always been proud of Congressman Ross and his longstanding service to the people of Arkansas and we look forward to his future work to create jobs and develop our economy with this future venture of his," state Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor had already taken himself out of the running for the governor’s race earlier this year, when he announced that he planned to seek a third term in the Senate in 2014.
Ross’s decision prompted former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter to take a look at running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Halter, who made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 rather than seek re-election, was flooded with calls urging him to run after Ross’s announcement, a spokesman said.
"He’s going to give it serious consideration," spokesman Bud Jackson said.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, another Democrat widely expected to join the race, said he called Ross to congratulate him on his service, but did not comment about his own political future.