|Doug Gross (Republican)|
Before this year, Doug Gross was not a name known to most Iowans. But in the capital of Des Moines, Gross had long ago established himself as a power broker and behind-the-scenes force.
Gross has moved within the halls of power in Iowa's Capitol for nearly two decades. Serving as an adviser for two governors and a powerful lobbyist and lawyer, he has built a career of accomplishments and some controversies.
He was born and raised in the small town of Defiance in western Iowa, he was the fourth child in a family of ten. He received his bachelor's degree from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1977. By the time he graduated, he was already engrossed in politics. In 1978, he helped run the first congressional campaign of former U.S. Rep. Tom Tauke. He went to Washington with the new congressman, serving as a top legislative aid.
His congressional experience helped him land a job the next year as director of the Fuels Division for the Iowa Energy Policy Council, working with the government to expand support for ethanol and other key issues.
His work drew the attention of then-Gov. Robert Ray, who asked the 26-year-old to join his staff as one of the lead liaisons with the state legislature. As Ray departed less than a year later, a political icon was coming to power, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who served in the state's top office for 16 years, from 1983 until 1999. Branstad kept the young Gross on and the two quickly built a close professional association.
"He and I have a relationship with each other where one of us can grunt and we know what the other one is saying," Gross told the Des Moines Register in September. "I think we're almost brothers."
Gross left the governor's office briefly in 1983 to work for the state university Board of Regents, but was rehired a year later to serve as Branstad's chief of staff. His influence and control behind the scenes quickly earned him the nickname "deputy governor."
As Gross settled into his new position, he also earned his law degree from Drake University in 1985.
For four years, during one of the state's most economically depressed periods in recent history, Gross worked closely with the governor to promote economic development -- and most say he was a one of the major decision-makers in the capital.
heard that if you wanted to get things done at the state Capitol, you
had to go through Doug Gross," state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald,
a Democrat, said in a Des Moines Register profile. "He knew the
place. He was in charge."
During this time he maintained close ties with Gov. Branstad, as they consulted one another on political and policy questions.
Their relationship was not without controversy. In 1994, Democrats accused Gross of lobbying the governor to support the building of a massive prison complex in southwestern Iowa. The town there, Clarinda, had hired Gross' firm to help land the $21 million project.
According to records, Gross and the governor discussed the project eight times before the Branstad endorsed the deal. The two Republicans say the discussions were just informational exchanges, but Democrats said Gross had influenced the governor's decision without having registered as a lobbyist with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, a violation of state rules.
The board investigated the accusation and voted 5-0 to dismiss it saying their inquiry had "shown a suspicion of contacts which might be considered lobbying. However, there is insufficient evidence" to support charges.
The controversy evaporated soon after, and Gross stayed active in Republican politics even after Branstad left the governor's office in 1999. Despite the time it took to serve as the managing partner of one of the state's largest law firms, Gross continued to advise many Republican candidates for office and was co-chair of George W. Bush's finance effort in Iowa in 2000.
Gross said he had never considered running for the state's top job until a group of Republicans, including his old friend Terry Branstad, approached him in August of 2001. They hope Gross' combination of behind-the-scenes insight and business background will appeal to the voters as the GOP looks to oust first-term Gov. Tom Vilsack.
He has been married to his wife, Eileen, for 23 years and they have five children, ranging in age from 13 to 22. In addition to his continued work in the capital, he also owns and operates a farm some 30 miles southwest of Des Moines.
--By Lee Banville, Online NewsHour