U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, since his days in the state legislature, has appealed to the worst in people.
He cut it with me the day he walked around the Senate chamber handing out tiny American flags as he pumped a meaningless bit of demagoguery about the Pledge of Allegiance.
He cut it further when his campaign vowed to me he'd never get beat on the Three G's of Southern politics — God, guns and gays. Every cheap appeal to religion and guns is instantly amplified by Mike Ross. Equal treatment of gay people or defense of a woman's right to control medical decisions about her body? Don't hold your breath.
Ross' cynical politics includes distrust of government. So there was some poetic justice when he reaped a whirlwind of cynicism himself last week.
A joint effort by the nonprofit ProPublica reporting enterprise and the publication Politico raised questions about whether Ross had been unduly enriched in 2007 when the USA Drug chain purchased his family's Prescott pharmacy for at least $1.25 million and kept his wife on as a pharmacist.
Critics on the left rushed to beat him up over a discrepancy in land valuation. Defenders of his politics said the reporting was, at best, incomplete.
Just about everyone missed the real point. The total price was the only barometer of the sale and it couldn't be judged fully without details that neither Ross nor the chain purchaser has been willing to disclose.
I'm willing to accept the opinion of pharmacy professionals that the price seems to be within an acceptable range. The ensuing controversy, however, put Ross' other weaknesses on display, particularly his penchant for exaggeration. (Remember when he suggested Obamacare would pull the plug on granny?)
Here, Ross claimed the amount paid for his real property represented “only” a 4 percent annual return on the property over the nine years he'd owned it. He forgot to include handsome rent — $15,000 to $50,000 a year — in his return on investment over the years. Nor did he include other undisclosed payments (a big salary as owner of the property, for one) and tax benefits during his ownership. Plus, he never would say how much of his own money, as opposed to a bank loan, he had in the building at the time of sale.
Ross described the reporting as a “leftist” witch hunt. ProPublica's financial angels have supported unaffiliated liberal causes, true, though its reporting targets have ranged across the spectrum. But Politico's backers are the right-wing Allbritton family, which forced another property, Little Rock's KATV, to endorse George W. Bush on-air in 2000.
Still, few reporters are capable accountants and much of the reporting proved the point. Poorly informed bookkeeping aside, it also was a stretch to link the two-year-old sale and Ross' current opposition to universal health care.
It was, however, rough justice for Ross, who has long capitalized on the unfair tactics of the NRA, Bible beaters and special interest business lobbies. Even if we don't know the true bottom line on Ross' drugstore sale, the attention spotlighted simple truths:
1) Ross has always been a tool of the health industry complex (and large recipient of their campaign money). 2) He continues to reap significant financial return from being a participant in the industry. 3) An election is coming. A recent poll shows 74 percent of the Democrats in the 4th District want the kind of health insurance option that Ross proudly and vehemently opposes. Talk about a headache.