Scot Ross, gadfly to conservatives and a dependable source of biting comments on Republican maneuverings, is stepping down from his post as executive director at the liberal group One Wisconsin Now and One Wisconsin Institute, a job he’s held for 11 years.
Ross, 49, said he’s leaving for a job in the private sector, but would not say what that job is.
“I’m going to be a private citizen now,” he said with uncharacteristic reticence during a short interview.
Ross will be leaving the group at the end of the month. A successor has not been named.
In a joint statement, Kim Warkentin and Bill Stephen, presidents of the One Wisconsin Institute and the One Wisconsin Now boards, said, “We are excited at all the opportunities that are ahead for One Wisconsin Now and One Wisconsin Institute and shortly we will be naming our new executive director.”
Ross said among his most satisfying achievements over the years has been training activists, fostering diversity in media sources, raising alarms over the student debt crisis, taking on the conservative Bradley Foundation, as well as “beating Republicans in state and federal court five straight times.”
“I had the best job in Wisconsin politics because I got to deal with the best people in Wisconsin politics,” he said in a press release announcing his departure. “One Wisconsin Now and Institute led the way for progressives on research, communications and rapid response.”
He said the group’s staff will “continue to use their voices to fight for truth, justice and equality.”
Joining OWN in 2007 as executive director, Ross established himself as a dogged pursuer of dirt on political adversaries, directing his staff to pick through tax forms, court records and government documents obtained through often hard-fought open records requests to dig up dirt on political adversaries.
He became a force in the political landscape, providing a brash counterpoint to increasingly influential conservative groups, like the Bradley-funded MacIver Institute. He’s served as a tireless voice for progressive causes and was a frequent presence in the state Capitol to provide testimony at hearings on what he considered egregious legislation during the past eight years of complete Republican control of state government.
He also expanded OWN’s resources, landing donations from the likes of Epic Systems founder and CEO Judy Faulkner, New York philanthropist Alida Rockefeller Messinger and Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein.
In its press release, OWN said Ross helped grow the organization’s support network to more than 100,000 online supporters, building and “active, diverse and vibrant donor base.”
The statement said during Ross’ tenure, OWN has been represented in more than 15,000 news stories, and he’s become a regular presence on local and national television.
“I get attention, but my colleagues at One Wisconsin deserve the real credit,” he said.
He leaves as One Wisconsin Now comes off a pair of high-profile court victories, winning federal rulings against early voting restrictions enacted by Republicans in a lame-duck session after Democrat Tony Evers defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker last fall, and against three prominent Republicans who booted OWN from their Twitter accounts.
Before taking over at OWN, Ross had served as a legislative aide, campaign operative and political action organizer.
He started his career as a journalist. He was editor of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus newspaper, where he displayed the feistiness that would later become a trademark trait when he challenged the university’s decision to withhold campus police reports. He then worked a stint as at the Richard Mellon Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
After receiving a master’s in political management from George Washington University, he landed in Madison, where he worked for the state Assembly and Senate Democratic caucuses.
In 2002 he was communications director for then Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk’s failed bid for governor until she lost in the primary, then worked for Peg Lautenschlager’s successful run for attorney general.
He left Madison for a stint with Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and then worked for the progressive political action group American Coming Together.
He returned to Madison in 2005 to work for Lautenschlager as a DOJ spokesperson, and in 2006 he challenged Secretary of State Doug La Follette in the Democratic primary, losing badly. The next year he took over One Wisconsin Now.