WASHINGTON - Martin Frost was a tour de force in Texas politics, representing a Dallas-Fort Worth district in Congress for a quarter century.
His congressional career ended when the Texas legislature redrew the district lines in 2003, effectively splitting his voter base into five different districts. The Democrat was defeated by Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Republican from Coppell. Despite his ouster from elected office, Frost is still actively involved in Washington politics and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In June, Frost, 65, was named president of America Votes, a coalition of progressive organizations, including unions and women’s rights groups. The group is aimed at mobilizing the liberal-minded for the 2008 presidential election, through voter registration and getting voters to the polls.
It’s a job he’ll work part time, alongside his work as a lobbyist, columnist, lecturer and mentor.
From his office at the law firm Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus, in the heart of downtown D.C., he explained his packed schedule:
“I like to keep busy,” Frost said. “I’m not ready to retire. I have been doing things that keep my mind active and let me stay involved in politics.”
In Congress, Frost was the ranking Democrat on the powerful Rules Committee. He led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1996 and 1998 and the Democratic Caucus from 1999 to 2003.
When he was defeated, Frost had other things on his mind. His wife, Kathryn, was the highest-ranking woman in the Army, a two-star general. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and it had returned when Frost left office. She retired three months after he left Congress.
“I took things easy and spent as much time as I could with her,” Frost said of the 18 months that followed. She died in 2006.
He started doing commentary for Fox News in February 2005, “to provide a little balance.” That turned into a weekly column for the Fox News Web site.
“When I was a member of Congress, I always appeared on Fox because it’s such a large audience, and we should tell both sides of the story,” Frost said.
In fall of that year, the Frosts went to Cambridge, Mass., where Martin was a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and they both audited classes. When they returned to Washington, Martin was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Martin said Kathryn’s health continued to decline, and they bought the home in Latta, S.C., where she grew up. She spent her last months there with family and friends.
Frost started his job as a lobbyist just after her death. He represents mostly Texas clients, including Belo, a media corporation, Dallas energy company Hyperion Resources and Perot Systems, run by Ross Perot Jr.
He mentored five Democratic candidates during the 2006 elections; three won. And after the elections were over, a new Washington newspaper, The Politico, asked Frost to start another weekly column - this time, on a topic of the paper’s choice, opposite Tom Delay, the former Texas Republican congressman who was instrumental in the 2003 redistricting.
Another Texas connection brought him to his latest venture as president of America Votes. Former Gov. Ann Richards’s daughter, Cecile Richards, brought Frost in to the organization.
Frost worked to get higher voter turnout and more registered voters early in his career, so he said he’s familiar with the logistics of what the organization does. America Votes is working in nine states and hopes to be in 15 states by the election, Frost said.
“It’s an election year. You want to turn out as many people as you can,” he said. “We want to get as many people as we can on our side of the polls.”
That side is decidedly Democratic.
“I want to see a Democrat elected,” Frost said of the presidential race. “I think the country is better served with a Democratic administration.”
He said serving under five different presidents while in Congress (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) convinced him that Democrats are better leaders, even though he’s admired some Republicans over the years.
“I think the country does better in the sense of treating all its citizens fairly when a Democrat is in the White House.”
Frost doesn’t endorse any specific candidates, but said he’s interested in working for the next Democratic administration.
Jess Davis, a WHS graduate and University of South Carolina student, is an intern with Scripps Howard Foundation Wire this summer.