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Photo credited to the United States Senate Historical Office
|United States Senator
November 4, 1964 – January 2, 1967
|Preceded by||Herbert S. Walters|
|Succeeded by||Howard H. Baker, Jr.|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee's 6th congressional district|
January 3, 1955 – November 4, 1964
|Preceded by||James Patrick Sutton|
|Succeeded by||William R. Anderson|
March 17, 1918|
|Died||January 1, 1993
Miami Shores, Florida
|Resting place||Pulaski, Tennessee|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Corps|
|Years of service||1941-1945|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Bass was the son of a circuit-riding Methodist minister in rural Giles County, attended the local public schools, and graduated from Martin Methodist Junior College in Pulaski in 1938. He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, becoming a bombardier and reaching the rank of captain. After his 1945 discharge Bass opened a flower shop in Pulaski, the county seat. He was named postmaster of Pulaski in 1946, serving until 1954.
In 1954, Bass was elected as a Democratic U.S. Congressman from Tennessee's 6th District, which included Pulaski. He was reelected four times. He was the only Representative from the rural South to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even though his hometown was Pulaski, which is where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866. The only other Southern Representatives to vote for the bill were from large cities—Richard Fulton from Nashville, Tennessee, Charles Weltner from Atlanta, Georgia, Claude Pepper from Miami, Florida and four Representatives from Texas.
In 1963, Senator Estes Kefauver died in office. Governor Frank G. Clement made no secret that he wanted to run in the special election due in 1964 for the final two years of Kefauver's term. However, rather than appoint himself to the seat, he appointed one of his cabinet members, Herbert S. Walters, to serve as a caretaker until the special election. However, Clement's plan backfired when Bass defeated him in the Democratic primary held in August.
In November, Bass defeated the Republican nominee, Howard Baker by only 4.7 percentage points—the closest that a Republican had come to winning election to the Senate from Tennessee at the time. Since the election was for an unexpired term, and in the Senate seniority is a very important consideration when being considered for committee assignments, office assignments, and the like, Bass was sworn in as soon as the election results could be certified in order to give him a slight seniority advantage over other freshmen Senators elected in 1964. Bass became Tennessee's junior Senator (the senior Senator at that time being Albert Gore, Sr.) and prepared to run for a full term in 1966.
However, this race proved problematic for Bass. Clement still desired the seat for himself, especially since he could not run for reelection as governor in 1966 (in those days, Tennessee governors were barred from immediately succeeding themselves). He wanted to avoid being forced out of politics, as he had once before when faced with term limits the first time in 1958. Bass lost the August 1966 Democratic primary to Clement, even though he received 10% more votes than in the previous election. Since Tennessee does not have registration by party, Bass' loss was widely attributed to a large Republican crossover vote. The Republicans apparently felt that they stood a better chance of defeating Clement rather than Bass, despite the closeness of Bass' win in 1964. (Clement then proceeded to lose in the general election to Baker, who became Tennessee's first elected post-Reconstruction Republican Senator.)
Later political career
Bass subsequently made two attempts to re-enter politics. He ran for the 1974 Democratic nomination for governor, but finished fifth in a nine-candidate field—well behind the eventual winner, Ray Blanton. Bass' strong opposition to capital punishment was generally thought to have contributed to what was a surprisingly weak finish for a former Senator.
In 1976 he entered the Democratic primary for his former House seat and won the nomination. The district, however, had been significantly redrawn since his previous service. Bass found himself running in a large amount of territory that he did not know and that did not know him. In addition, much of this territory was heavily Republican, having been added by the state legislature after the 1970 census in an attempt to punish his successor in Congress, William Anderson, for his perceived liberalism. Bass lost badly—by over 30 points—to Robin Beard, the Republican who had defeated Anderson, despite 1976 otherwise being almost a Democratic sweep in Tennessee, which voted for Jimmy Carter for President and saw the defeat of Senator Bill Brock in favor of Jim Sasser. Bass apparently saw that he had no future in elective politics.
His first marriage ended in divorce in 1967. He later married Jacqui Colter. After his 1976 loss, he moved to Florida, where he lived in North Miami until his death of lung cancer in 1993, survived by his second wife.
His first cousin is actor Dewey Martin.
- "Obituaries:Ross Bass, Ex-Senator; Tennessean Was 75"; New York Times January 2, 1993
- United States Congress. "Ross Bass (id: B000223)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
|United States House of Representatives|
James Patrick Sutton
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 6th congressional district
William R. Anderson
|United States Senate|
Herbert S. Walters
|U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Albert Gore
Howard H. Baker