From David Hulen in Anchorage --
We've written a lot about through the years about Wayne Anthony Ross, the Anchorage lawyer picked by Gov. Palin today to be her new attorney general.
Here are four stories, most recent first: a story about Ross' defense, in 2003, of a Kenai Peninsula fishing guide who faced criminal charges for pouring water on anti-war protesters (he was found guilty and sentenced to community service); a campaign profile when he was running for governor in 1998; another profile in 1995; and a long piece in our old Sunday magazine, We Alaskans, from 1989.
July 10, 2003
Defense tries moral, not legal, argument
SOLDOTNA: Politics are not relevant in dousing of protesters, judge tells attorney.
By TOM KIZZIA
Anchorage Daily News
SOLDOTNA - Defense attorney Wayne Anthony Ross tried to argue in court Wednesday that people holding signs against the Iraq war had exercised their free speech in Soldotna last spring so irresponsibly that his client, who is on trial for assault, was justified in retaliating with buckets of water.
But Ross' effort to interrogate the demonstrators about their anti-war beliefs was cut off by the judge, who told Ross to skip the politics and keep to the facts of the case.
"I think the court is missing the point of the defense then," Ross fumed after the jury left the room. The Soldotna anti-war demonstration "may have been legally right, but it was not morally correct."
"My concern is what's legal," replied Magistrate David Landry.
The war opponents had been called to court Wednesday to testify against Jeff Webster, a local fishing guide and cab driver charged with five misdemeanors, including fourth-degree assault, for accosting them last March and April at Soldotna's main intersection.
Webster's trial in the Kenai courthouse resumes and appears likely to conclude Friday. Supporters for both sides, a dozen or so, watched quietly Wednesday as the trial veered into a discussion of American foreign policy.
Most facts in the case have not been disputed. Webster has said in interviews that he twice poured buckets of water from a passing pickup on protesters last spring in defense of his son, a Marine deployed to Iraq.
Ross was denied a potential line of defense when Landry ruled before the trial that Webster could not claim to have been exercising his own right of free speech with the buckets of water. Free-speech provisions have not been allowed by courts in defense of criminal acts, prosecutor June Stein successfully argued.
With his political line of questions cut off as well, Ross suggested that the demonstrators had deliberately targeted Webster by moving their protests to the "Y" intersection on the Sterling Highway, not far from Webster's house. The deployment to Iraq of Webster's son, Shane, had been publicized around town in fliers, a letter to the editor and an article in the Peninsula Clarion, Ross said.
"They singled out Mr. Webster because he was vulnerable," Ross said in his opening argument. "If you tease a dog enough, the dog's eventually going to snap at you."
But the seven protesters who testified Wednesday said they hadn't been aware of Webster until he accosted them. They said they moved their nightly demonstrations to the busy stoplight at the Y to be seen by more motorists.
One of the demonstrators, Sherry Kasukonis, described getting drenched and staying out in the cold March wind and blowing snow. A middle-aged Quaker whose gray hair was braided atop her head, Kasukonis said she'd been present for the hour-long demonstrations every day, no matter what the weather or her own health.
But you didn't have to stay that day you got wet, Ross said.
"Yes, I did!" she said with sudden animation. "I was required by my own sense of morality."
Another protester, Dan Funk, testified that Webster got out of his truck one evening and bumped up against his chest several times while yelling at him. That incident resulted in the assault charge. The other charges are harassment and interference with constitutional rights.
The political discussion got under way as Ross cross-examined the first witness, 82-year-old Billie Dailey, who had stood next to several people doused by Webster and who quoted Eleanor Roosevelt when asked why she participated in the anti-war demonstration.
Stein objected when Ross asked when was the first protest Dailey ever participated in. Landry sustained the objection. Stein objected again when Ross said that if she opposed oppression, was she aware that the Iraqi people had been oppressed? And again when he asked if she'd seen pictures of Iraqi children welcoming U.S. troops.
"The court is seriously hampering my cross-examination," Ross said as the jury was removed so that lawyers could set ground rules for the trial.
Ross said he needed to find out if the demonstrators knew that some people believe protests extended the Vietnam War, costing American lives, and that the Soldotna protest might do the same for the Iraq war. Such knowledge would make their conduct more reprehensible to Webster, who feared for his son, Ross said.
"We'll never go there," Landry replied when Ross said he wanted to bring up Vietnam. The judge said experts could disagree endlessly over such matters.
Where is the guide for saying which kind of speech is proper and reasonable, Landry asked.
"You want this court to be the forum for Mr. Webster's variety of beliefs," he said.
Ross would not say whether he plans to call on Webster on Friday to tell the jury about his motivations.
August 13, 1998
Fed up, Ross stages battle for guns, family, Alaska pride
By Steve Rinehart
Anchorage Daily News
Wayne Ross could have stepped out of a novel about the Last Frontier: the young man who went north in search of adventure and, with a law degree and a loving wife, built a good family, a fine house, a law practice, a world-class gun collection and a reputation as an honest guy who's not afraid of a fight.
That might add up to success enough for most people, but Ross says he's not satisfied. He wants to be governor, too.
Ross, one of three Republicans in the race, said he longs for the spirit he found when he got here 30 years ago, when ''people were really proud to be Alaskans.''
His campaign supporters, like his law clients, are asking him to solve problems and it's his nature to try, Ross said. Beyond that, he said, he's running because he's fed up with the divisiveness and meanness he sees in politics. He said he's been disappointed by candidates he has supported and he thinks government is out of touch.
''I kept hoping someone would come along who would do what needs to be done,'' he said. ''I looked at the candi-dates who were running and thought, 'These guys can never beat Tony Knowles.' ''
Ross, 55, is a big man with eyes that glint in a face that shifts seamlessly from humor to exasperation, to astonishment or outrage, and usually back to humor. He leaned back in the swivel chair behind the cluttered desk in his office on Fireweed, surrounded by the icons of his life and his beliefs.
In one photograph he's crouching next to the moose he killed with a large-caliber pistol. In another, he's standing with Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. There's a picture of an old-time policeman in a Keystone Cops hat, Ross' great-grandfather in Wisconsin. On a shelf, pictures of his children. On the wall, a sketch of one of his heroes, Teddy Roosevelt.
''Sometimes you've got to do it yourself,'' he said.
He has never run for public office. He has, nevertheless, trod widely through Alaska politics.
He has lobbied Congress over amendments to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was co-counsel on the initial subsistence lawsuit, the McDowell case, in which the state Supreme Court tossed out the state's rural-preference law and affirmed equal hunting and fishing rights for Alaskans no matter where they live.
He has represented, without fee, anti-abortion protesters charged with trespassing and military veterans who ''res-cued'' the American flag from an artist who displayed it on the ground. A champion of gun rights, director of the National Rifle Association and past president of the Alaska Gun Collectors Association, he sued Gov. Tony Knowles to stop the state from destroying firearms seized from criminals. He won.
He was an Alaska delegate to the past two Republican National Conventions. He was, according to his resume, the Alaska chairman of Lawyers for Bush/Quayle in 1988 and co-chairman of Alaskans for Phil Gramm during the 1996 presidential primary election campaign.
He has helped develop the Republican Party political platforms that have guided other Republican candidates.
''Wayne Ross was always the name that went with the Republican Party,'' said LaJuana Streiff, a 19-year party veteran.
She and others who know Ross from his years in the party or the courtroom will say in one breath that they have disagreed with him and in the next that he is honest and ethical and a man of integrity.
''He walks and talks family values,'' said Bonnie Jack, a party regular from Anchorage.
When Ross sees something that needs doing, he does it, said Republican National Committeewoman Edna DeVries of Palmer. She added, ''He is not the kind of person who reminds you of that.''
In law and politics Ross is known as a formidable and tenacious debater. Still, said his former law partner and past party chairman Cheri (Jacobus) Copsey, now an Idaho resident, ''I have known him to change his mind. You may have to beat him around the head a bit, but he does listen and will change.''
Ross has talked publicly for at least a decade about running for governor. While he was trying to make up his mind this time, he consulted Streiff, an experienced campaign manager.
Streiff, party regional chairman, wouldn't say whom she's backing in the race. However, she said she told Ross that his positions, personality, reputation and family would appeal to voters, if they only knew who he was.
''I told him it would be an uphill battle, number one, for statewide name recognition. That was my biggest issue,'' she said.
That's a big issue for Ross, too. He has collected about $ 150,000 in a statewide race that, according to campaign veterans, needs closer to $ 1 million.
He's about even in fundraising with state Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell. It puts him way behind businessman John Lindauer, who has spent or committed more than $ 800,000, mostly from his personal wealth.
Ross is depending on a staff of volunteers in Anchorage and around the state, for whom he appears to offer hope.
''He wants Alaskans to get to be Alaskans again instead of under the thumbs of the feds,'' retired state trooper Fred Angleton said before heading out for another round of door-to-door campaigning in Soldotna. ''He stands up for what it means to be an American. Patriotism and love of the flag.''
He and other volunteers said they like Ross' pledge to appoint commissioners and directors from outside the government.
''I would characterize the Alaska government right now as working for themselves instead of for the people,'' said Amy Walker, a Ross campaign coordinator in Palmer. ''Wayne is a people's advocate. He wants to get in there and put government to where it is accessible.''
Walker, a mother of four who schools her kids at home, said she likes what Ross says about reducing government regulations, giving people more freedom and strengthening parental rights.
Honda Head, a retiree campaigning for Ross in Juneau, said she likes his pro-gun, anti-abortion and less-government stands.
''He believes in the things I believe in, the things Americans believed in way back when,'' she said. ''Whether he wins or not, he is someone willing to push for what I believe in.''
Ross, despite a reputation for colorful remarks and occasional flamboyance, brings to the race a conventional con-servatism. It reflects his career as a family law attorney, his years in the party, his religious faith and his love of guns and hunting. Stronger parental rights. No more taxes. No constitutional amendment on subsistence hunting and fishing. Back-to-basics education. More mining and logging. Fewer regulations. And less government -- except for more police and prisons.
Those positions reflect mainstream Alaska, said Anchorage public-opinion pollster Dave Dittman. Much of the cur-rent Legislature got elected saying similar things, he said.
Ross, in an interview, expressed his views in strong opinions, unglossed.
''I think we will be looked upon by future generations as barbarians'' for tolerating abortion, he said.
He's a churchgoing Roman Catholic and considers it the state's duty to protect life. He said he does not favor more laws attempting to restrict abortion but that the government should try to persuade women to bear their babies. If they can't or won't raise them, many other people would love to, he said.
On the same philosophical foundation -- ''Life is very precious'' -- Ross said he opposes capital punishment.
''As an attorney, I have seen innocent people convicted,'' he said. ''There can be no apologies after a person has been put to death.''
If voters approved a constitutional amendment calling for a death penalty, he said, he would enforce it as governor.
Native sovereignty threatens to create separate classes of Alaskans and would further divide the state, Ross said. ''The idea of Native sovereignty is a 19th-century principle, and we are going into the 21st century.''
Ross, an urban hunter, wants to keep the state constitutional guarantee of equal access to fish and game. ''Rural preference is wrong and not necessary to ensure subsistence foods,'' he says.
He accuses Knowles of ignoring a constitutional mandate to manage wildlife primarily for harvest, and he objects to wildlife-management petition drives like the successful 1996 effort to restrict the use of aircraft for hunting wolves and this year's proposal to forbid wolf snaring. The constitution specifically gives the Legislature responsibility for managing wildlife, he said: ''Under the constitution, people don't have that right.''
He advocates intensive game-population management, including killing predators like bears and wolves, to build up the number of moose, caribou and other meat animals. If people object, as they have in the past? ''The hue and cry does-n't bother me,'' Ross said.
State budgets should be cut until people are convinced the government is spending its money wisely, he said, al-though he could not name an instance in which people were convinced a government was spending wisely.
On issues he is less familiar with, Ross was more vague. He wants the state to build and fix roads, not bike and pe-destrian paths like those that parallel the new section of the Parks Highway near Willow. His campaign flier says, ''We ought to be spending pothole-repair money on potholes, not new nature trails.''
When it was pointed out that the state does not spend maintenance funds to build trails -- that most trails are part of the federal highway funding package -- he acknowledged he was uniformed about the details.
He said an outsider can't know all the ins and outs of government and doesn't need to know to be governor. His ap-proach would be to hire people with practical experience outside of government, tell them what he expects of them and then give them authority to do their jobs.
Ross smiled wide at the prospect. ''That would be fun,'' he said.
December 10, 1995
Wayne Anthony Ross: Never a quiet force, lawyer buckles down
By SHEILA TOOMEY
Anchorage Daily News
W.A.R. is raging again.
Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross is in court, battling the forces of darkness over gun control -- the dark force this time being a Knowles administration decision to destroy surplus state guns rather than sell them.
So what else is new? Ross has been in court and in the newspapers on behalf of conservative causes for more than 20 years. He wrote a political column for The Anchorage Times and is usually available for a hot quote on any number of snarly issues -- guns, gays, abortion and other Republicans, to name a few.
But something about Ross is new. He survived cancer surgery last year and the close encounter with his own mortality reminded him he has work left to do and no more time than the rest of us to get it done.
''I think he's at a point in his life when he's the most serious he's ever been, '' said his longtime friend, Rex Close.
Though widely known for his gun-rights stand, Ross has been active for 23 years -- on both a personal level and as a lawyer -- with Alaska Right to Life, lead organization in the anti-abortion movement. A devout Catholic, Ross believes his big remaining task on Earth is to help stop abortion, a practice he sums up as ''killing kids.''
''I feel I have a good relationship with the good Lord (but) if I could overturn Roe vs. Wade, I figure I got my ticket, '' he said.
The night before his cancer surgery, when doctors said it might be inoperable, Ross had a little talk with God.
''I told him, 'If you want my input, there's a lot of good fights out there to be fought and I'd just as soon stick around.' ''
GREAT ADVENTURE Ross came to Alaska in 1967, right out of Marquette Law School and newly married to Barbara Froelich, his wife of 27 years. They were part of the last wave of frontier-seekers before oil changed the nature of the great Alaska adventure. Ross worked briefly for the attorney general's office in Anchorage then for four years as Family Court master, sort of a junior judge handling domestic cases. He claims he once had a deadbeat dad arrested at his father's funeral and another as he came down the aisle after getting married.
Ross says he left the bench for private practice because he found himself getting arrogant.
''I found myself being less than my usual cheerful self, '' he said.
Maybe, but it's hard to imagine W.A.R. sticking with a career in the bureaucracy under any circumstances. The son of a Wisconsin insurance man, he was a business major in college and working at a grocery store when he switched to law.
''One day the boss came in and fired the store manager, right in front of everyone. I thought, 'I don't want to ever be in a position where that can happen to me. . . . You work for somebody, they can tell you when you can go fishing.''
Ross smiles when he says this, but it's not a joke. His lifelong passion for guns is tied to an equal passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.
''Mom would get upset, '' said his oldest son, Greg. ''But if school opened on the first of September, guess what? The Ross kids would not be there. We'd be hunting with dad.''
HERO OF HIS OWN LIFE
Like David Copperfield, Ross is determined to be the hero of his own life, painting his public portrait in extremes and reveling in the reaction. His personalized ''WAR'' license plate is instantly recognizable; directions to his home include reference to a drawbridge and ''the moat, '' neither of which is strictly true. (The moat is a slight ground depression encircling the house.) He admires the legend of Teddy Roosevelt and has been accused of cultivating a slight physical resemblance to the dead president.
He plays these games to advance causes he believes in, but also because it's his nature to be a showman. He enjoys confounding people and loves being the center of attention.
Take for example his dealings with attorney Allison Mendel. Ross and Mendel both do a lot of family-squabble law -- divorce, child custody, missed support payments, kids in trouble. She says he represents ''the boy's point of view.'' Ross doesn't agree.
''He's arrogant and opinionated, '' Mendel said. ''He shows up (in court) with his cowboy boots and cowboy hat and doesn't stand up when the judge comes in. . . . He has a very definite view of the world.''
During a fight several years ago over gay rights, Mendel helped organize Anchorage lawyers in support of an anti- discrimination ordinance. Ross wrote a nasty letter to the Bar Association newsletter, using words like ''immoral, '' ''perversion'' and ''degenerates.'' The language went way beyond reasonable disagreement, Mendel and others said.
But months later, when Mendel found herself crosswise with a judge and facing a possible jail term for contempt, Ross publicly supported her and even sent a small check for her defense fund.
''He takes principled positions, '' Mendel said, somewhat grudgingly. ''I'd rather deal with him than someone who views it all as a shell game.''
MAN OF 'INTEGRITY'
People asked to summarize Ross's character almost always mention ''integrity.'' He puts his time, which for a lawyer is the same as money, where his mouth is, said Pam Sigfried, an anti-abortion activist. He's been a free lawyer for anti-abortion activists for 23 years and, according to Sigfried, once took a trespass case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court ''for the price of the paper.''
There's more to it than causes. For 25 years Ross has been the Anchorage version of a small-town family lawyer, banking a lot of goodwill with people who think ''the system'' is stacked against the little guy. His friend Close is an aircraft maintenance supervisor for the Air Force and a fellow gun collector. Years ago Ross represented Close in a successful battle with the state over whether his rebuilt pickup truck legally qualified for personalized license plates. The case won't make a splash in legal journals, but it mattered a great deal to Close, who remembers it as ''Wayne and Rex taking on Goliath.''
''I would do anything for that guy and his family, '' Close said.
In his bolo ties and cowboy boots, Ross has the easy confidence of a big man who doesn't have to prove he's a tough guy. Greg Ross, oldest of the Ross children, says he's never known his father to get in a physical fight. Still, ''arrogance'' is another word often used to describe him and acknowledged by Ross himself.
Former legislator Mitch Abood, now brigadier general of a government- approved state militia called the Alaska State Defense Force, has known Ross for about 10 years and made him Col. Ross, inspector general of the 240-man unit.
''I just can't say enough good things about him, '' Abood said. ''He'll do anything in the world for you.''
But, said Abood, Ross ''can't stand to be wrong. . . . He's on a mission. There's no doubt about it. He thrives on confrontation. . . . He tries to convince me that he is absolutely right and I am absolutely wrong, and I don't buy that. . . .''
''He can dig in and be very belligerent, say there's my way and no way, '' said Close.
''I would say that hits the nail on the head, '' Ross agreed. ''I think it's helped make me successful as an attorney, and it's a fault that needs to be worked on.''
Nearly 30 years after he arrived here searching for his future, Ross still connects to that small-town Anchorage he found. He takes in stray horses and picks up strangers. In the late 1980s, he opened his home to Scott Mackay, teenage son of lawyer Neil Mackay, one of the most notorious murder defendants in Alaska history, offering the boy a safe haven after his father was acquitted so he could finish high school. And Barbara Ross says it's routine for Wayne to call and say he's met some interesting tourists wandering around downtown and bringing them home for dinner.
''He looks after a lot of people, '' said his son.
At 52, Ross is a successful lawyer with a practice that earns him from $175,000 to $250,000 a year, according to his count. He has a home on the Hillside, 6,000 books, a certain celebrity, an enduring marriage and four grown children anyone would be proud of.
''Alaska helped me to become far more than I ever expected to be, '' he said, ''to become more successful than I expected.''
Still, he's restless.
NRA POWER PLAY
Throughout the late 1980s, Ross thought he was going to be president of the 3-million member National Rifle Association, but things didn't turn out the way they were supposed to.
A member since 1964, he was elected to the executive board in 1980, then rose to first vice president in 1990. Traditionally, he would have spent two years in that job then become president. Instead, he lost his second year in the vice presidency by three votes.
''He was caught in one of the perennial power plays that racks the NRA from time to time, '' said Osha Davidson, author of a book about the organization. The simple version of the coup is that Neal Knox, radical even by NRA standards, lined up enough votes to oust board members interested in taking a less confrontational approach, said Davidson. Knox represented a shift in organizational focus from supporting hunters and collectors to politicking in favor of a broad right-wing agenda, he said.
Outsiders unfamiliar with the nuances of Second Amendment issues might classify the opposing factions as militant gun-rights advocates on one side and even more militant gun-rights advocates on the other side. But news stories tend to label the two sides ''moderates'' and ''extremists.'' W.A.R. is in the first category and seems a little disconcerted about it.
''I don't deserve that 'moderate' title they tried to put on me, '' he groused after newspaper stories called him a dissident. His friend, Joe Nava of Fairbanks, a former NRA board member, tends to agree. ''He's not a dissident, '' Nava said. ''He's simply a minority.''
Ross is back on the NRA board now, but nowhere near the real circle of power controlled by Knox and his buddies. So what's a middle-aged man with a mission and a love of action to do? Ross says he'll probably run for governor in 1998.
The closed Republican primary gives conservatives like him an edge, he says -- a theory that didn't work in the last election, where moderate Jim Campbell beat Tom Fink. Anchorage banker's son Dave Cuddy plans to test the theory again next summer with a primary run against Sen. Ted Stevens, the state's top Republican and a Ross foe.
It's obviously too early to start speculating about a move Ross might make three years down the road. But it might be pertinent to wonder if there's still room for eccentric, mouthy individualists in big-time politics. Close, who clearly admires Ross, says maybe his friend has waited too long. ''I personally think he's about 20 years too late, '' Close said. ''The good old Alaskan philosophy's gone. It's more liberal now. The numbers may not be there.''
Ross isn't making any predictions. He's licked the cancer. He's busy running Phil Gramm's presidential campaign in Alaska and gearing up to argue in court next year that the state has no right to destroy salable, legal surplus guns. His life so far has been a satisfying adventure. He figures the road ahead won't be any less.
March 5, 1989
In defense of guns
In defense of guns
By Doug O'Harra
Anchorage Daily News
After a relaxed evening, Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross said good night to his dinner guest. Within minutes, the guest was back, rapping the iron knocker on the front door of Ross' Hillside home. A woman at the end of the road had just been robbed, the guest said. Her car had been stopped by a man who threatened her, then took $500 in cash.
Ross immediately phoned the Alaska State Troopers. While on the phone, he spotted a stranger walking toward his front door.
"Just a minute, " he recalls telling the troopers. "I have a possible suspect at my front door."
Grabbing his .45-caliber Colt automatic pistol, Ross called outside: "What do you want?"
"Good evening, sir, " the man said. "I've had some car trouble, and I was wondering whether I could get a ride downtown."
Ross paused and must have smiled to himself.
"I'm sure I can arrange a ride downtown, " he said.
At least that's how Wayne Anthony Ross -- an Anchorage lawyer and second vice president of the National Rifle Association -- recalls the story, illustrating how armed citizens can protect themselves and their community against crime.
It's a story that is difficult to confirm. Yet Ross tells it expertly with pacing, with punchlines, with sparkling eyes: How he proceeded to ask the troopers to send help. How he slipped the gun to his friend, instructing him to sit behind them in the car and be prepared for action. How the three started driving downhill then stopped:
"I turned to him and said, "Maybe we ought to go up the hill and see if we can get your car started.'
" "Aw no, ' he says. "It's too dark. We couldn't find it.'
" 'Now isn't that interesting,' I say. "A lot of people are having trouble up here tonight. Why, right down the hill here is a woman who says she's been robbed.'
"And he says, "Oh, I see you guys are really busy tonight. I'll go see if someone else can help me.'
"My buddy says to him, "Don't make any fast moves, put your hands on the dash and don't turn around.' "
The thief decided to sit tight and, within a quarter hour, was taken into custody. (By then, Ross says, he had patted the man down and found no weapon.) The money was later discovered in the lining of his coat.
Ross says it all just goes to show that armed citizens sometimes have to enforce the law themselves.
"The police are here to help out citizens not the other way around, " he says. "It's the citizen's first responsibility."
Last month, in a scene from a column he wrote for The Anchorage Times, Ross lectured a Philadelphian on the same subject. After the man warned him against traveling a certain street in Philadelphia because of muggers, Ross admonished him.
"Where I come from, " he told the Easterner, "if we knew a street where muggers were, it would be great sport to go down and clean them out of there!"
Wayne Anthony Ross, whose initials W.A.R. mark the license of his huge, red, four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban, is increasingly one of the country's most outspoken defenders of the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. He's been on the NRA's national board of directors for nearly 10 years. As the progun group's second vice president, he's directly in line for the NRA presidency.
But that's not all. Wayne Anthony Ross would like to be governor.
TILTING AT WINDMILLS
The practice is family law.
From his Third Avenue office overlooking the Port of Anchorage, Wayne Ross specializes in those messy, litigious cases involving child custody and divorce. He especially likes cases against bureaucrats.
Yet Ross also fights for the rights of other favored constituencies. He's represented antiabortion groups against those whom he readily labels "baby killers." He's defended hunters against subsistence law restrictions a case now before the Alaska Supreme Court. He's served on the NRA's legal action committee battling handgun control.
"My partners let me tilt at windmills, " Ross explains.
Wayne Ross loves guns and lawyering with an intensity that shapes his entire life. He enjoys a good fight. He offends liberals, annoys the government and believes he does good while having fun.
"Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords, " Ross proclaims, quoting Teddy Roosevelt.
The words are on his office wall. In fact, likenesses of Roosevelt are everywhere in the office in cartoons, pictures, statues. Among them is a photograph of a man leaning against a fallen bull moose with a 52inch rack. From across the room, the man is unmistakably Teddy Roosevelt in his prime the worn hat, the wirerimmed glasses, the handlebar mustache, the jaunty pose, the barrel of a .45-caliber Colt revolver resting on his leg.
But wait . . . It's a photo of Ross.
The likeness is no accident. On his resume, Ross lists his political affiliation as "one of the last of the Teddy Roosevelt BullMooser's." He and his wife, Barbara, designed the living room of their Tudor-style home to accommodate a moose head with antlers 70 inches wide.
Ross even approaches his law practice with the Rooseveltian bluster of "bigstick" diplomacy. "They're suing you, and I think they're going to end up paying us a lot of money, " he recently assured a client over the phone. "When you stick your finger in the buzz saw, you can lose your finger."
One of Ross' clients a defendant in an assault case once offered to pay his legal fees with the Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic that was seized during his arrest. When the client pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the court impounded the handgun for costs.
Ross protested and promptly filed a "Writ of Habeas Pistola" in which he argued that it was "too fine a weapon to give to the state, where it would not be appreciated."
The gun was released.
THE FAMILY MAN
Wayne and Barbara Ross moved to Anchorage about 20 years ago one month after they were married and one month after Ross graduated from Marquette University School of Law in Milwaukee.
They have four children. Ross has taught them all to hunt. He can name from memory the animal, gun and circumstance of each child's first kill.
But his three sons and a daughter were only allowed to hunt after years of safety training with toy guns. The training was so serious to Ross that he prohibited his children from "firing" the toys at each other or their friends.
"When I see a gun pointed at somebody, it turns my stomach, " Ross says. "The idea is repugnant to me."
Like many Alaska families, the Rosses raised their children on a frequent diet of wild game, even grinding chunks of moose in the blender for baby food.
Most years, it was Wayne who killed the animal and brought home the meat. But one year, in the early 1980s, Barbara took the moose. She'd received a permit to hunt in an area northeast of Palmer. The family packed into the car, prepared for a daylong hunt. But as soon as they arrived, Barbara spotted the moose, stalked it, killed it. The entire hunt took 10 minutes.
Since then, she has a response to any elaborate plans for the annual fall hunt.
"I always say to him: "Why do you have to stay a week out there? You go up, get the moose, and you go home.' "
Ross laughs at the story, never tiring of it.
The Rosses view their marriage as a partnership. Barbara often works at his law office, and Wayne consults her about releasing information to an interviewer.
They've lived in their present home since the early '70s, a place within sight of a lot they wistfully looked at just days after they arrived jobless in 1968.
"I (had) told her I was going to Alaska if I had to sell shoes, " Ross says.
Instead, he was hired as an assistant attorney general, serving in the family section a post Ross held for one year. He then became the standing master of the Anchorage family court, a job that was to set the direction of his legal career. Over the next four years, Ross heard 90 percent of the cases in the 3rd Judicial District involving children, many of them over contested support payments.
As a result, he chose to focus on family law in private practice. Over the years, he has frequently clashed with state agencies over custody issues.
"I get into these great battles, " Ross says simply.
Officials with the state Division of Family and Youth Services would not comment on Ross. Yet several attorneys familiar with his work confirmed that Ross might have angered state officials by his stubborn advocacy of parental rights in custody cases, and his showmanship in the courtroom.
Ross' style, in fact, has the potential to threaten and intimidate opposing counsel, Anchorage attorney Alexis Foote says.
"I really enjoy trying a case with him because he's really aggressive, " she says. "My clients always hate him, which means he's done a good job.
"He plays the old country attorney type . . . where he puts his hands in his pockets and shuffles around and pleads the case of his clients in an unsophisticated way. But he's not unsophisticated at all."
Ross' showmanship seems to spill over into his personal life, according to friends.
"He's a great raconteur, " says Satch Carlson, Ross' neighbor as well as a Daily News columnist occasionally chided by Ross in The Times. "I think of him as a great man to go fishing with."
Yet Carlson views Ross as "a little out of his time" like Teddy Roosevelt. "He speaks with a great deal of bluster and gusto. He loves to tell a good story, and he loves to argue."
During those arguments particularly arguments over gun rights Ross seldom listens to the other side with an open mind, Carlson says.
"He's very, very sure of himself."
So sure, in fact, that Ross talks about running for Alaska's highest office. His interest in gubernatorial politics started in the mid1980s, after he became dissatisfied with Democratic Gov. Bill Sheffield.
"Most (Alaska governors) are fairly gutless when it comes to standing up to the federal government, " he says.
Ross became active in the Alaska Republican party largely to help place another Republican in the statehouse. Now, after two straight GOP defeats, he's tired of waiting.
"It's becoming one of those: "If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself.' "
DEBATING THE ISSUE
As Wayne Anthony Ross entered the Channel 11 studio, his eyes fell immediately on the weapon a Colt AR15 semiautomatic rifle. The gun had been brought there by his opponent in a scheduled television debate over a ban on semiautomatic weapons.
Ross picked up the rifle without a word, pulled the bolt, examined the chamber. Empty. He set it back down.
His debating opponent, Anchorage lawyer Ron Zobel, sat across from Ross in the chilly studio as technicians took voice levels. When someone commented about Ross checking the weapon, he motioned to Zobel: "So did he."
"I checked it at home, and when I got here, " Zobel said. "That's just basic gun safety. That's probably the one thing we agree on."
The question of banning militarystyle weapons had been gaining momentum since a man entered the playground of a Stockton, Calif., elementary school in January, shooting dozens of children with a semiautomatic AK47. Before the gunman turned the weapon on himself, he had wounded 30 and killed five. Within weeks, Stockton and Los Angeles had enacted ordinances banning the weapons laws soon to be challenged in the California Supreme Court by the NRA and several gun owners.
Channel 11 reporter Ray Etrych took his place between Ross and Zobel, and the taping began.
Zobel had brought a gun catalog as thick as a phone book to show the easy access to "military-style" weapons. Ross had brought an editorial cartoon of a British soldier confronting an American colonist about his musket. "Why does a farmer need a military assault rifle?" the Britisher demanded.
During the debate, Zobel argued that "military-style" weapons are just too dangerous. The incident in Stockton showed that weapons like the AK47 and the AR15 are far too easy to obtain.
"They were made for combat, " Zobel said. "That's why we sent these weapons with our boys to war. They were made for killing people."
Zobel proposed that the NRA help write a statute that would limit access to or ban military-style weapons. "Only the military or the police should be able to have one of these, " he said.
Ross responded that he owns a similar semiautomatic rifle, one that he has taught his sons to use. He told how his high school-age son recently asked: "If a ban goes through on semiautomatic weapons, how are dads going to teach their boys how to shoot before they go into the service?"
At the sight of such a weapon, Ross said, he thinks of fathers and sons attending sporting events such as target competitions and national matches not combat. Besides, banning ownership of semiautomatic weapons wouldn't stop criminals from getting them anyway, Ross said.
"The only thing it would do is stop lawabiding citizens from owning these weapons, and they're not the ones we're worried about."
To Ross, this often-stated NRA position is the crux of the argument. Laws banning weapons simply disarm those who obey the law, he says: It's crazy to think a law would stop a criminal from obtaining a gun.
"Can you imagine one guy saying to another: "Hey, Charlie, we were going to go murder Fred, but it's illegal for us to have semiautomatic weapons, so we better not'?"
Near the close of the debate, Ross asked Zobel a veteran if he had been trained to fire an M16, the military version of the AR15. Zobel affirmed that he had.
"What have you done since that time that you should not be allowed to own a semiautomatic weapon?" Ross asked.
But Zobel was unmoved. The ease with which he had borrowed the weapon that he brought to the studio was frightening, he said.
When the debate ended and the camera lights snapped off, Ross leaned over to Zobel and motioned to the AR15.
"What will you take for that?"
INSIDE THE GUN VAULT
Ross swings open the thick door to his gun vault and motions his guest inside. The large, concrete-block room is cool and dry and crowded with guns.
They fill square glass cases on tables, they sit on shelves in scabbards. Over the years, Ross has collected more than 300 of them pistols, rifles, semiautomatics both common and exotic, all oiled and polished, each one impeccably cared for, most of them ready to fire.
In the room, Ross is subdued. He opens a case and selects a Colt revolver. He grasps the handle with his fingertips and rests the barrel on the sleeve of his shirt.
"There's a name inscribed on the barrel, " he says. "Take a look."
On the barrel, in distinct lettering, is etched "Laddie Hellman."
"So you wonder who Laddie Hellman was, " he says quietly. "All the little markings on these guns mean something."
In one case is a World War I Colt revolver marked with the initials AEF for Allied Expeditionary Force. Another pistol has a photo of Rita Hayworth painstakingly embossed under the grips. A 100yearold Colt singleaction revolver in perfect condition lies nearby. With serial number 7438, the pistol should have been issued to Custer's cavalry or Roosevelt's Rough Riders.
"One wonders how this one missed the service, " Ross says. "You just wish they could talk. This is actually history you can touch."
Ross says he's not really interested in modern guns "except that they're fun to shoot." As a founding member of the Alaska Gun Collectors' Association, he probably enjoys stories about firearms more than he does shooting them.
"I usually say that you should buy one or two books with every gun that you buy, " he says. Ross owns nearly 3,000 volumes, many of them about guns.
In a smaller case in the vault, Ross has collected the weapons handed down by his family. Included with his father's knife and his brother-in-law's service revolver is a small, black pistol. A special pistol. One that leads back to his father and started Ross' lifelong interest in guns.
Ross' father was a city alderman and insurance salesman in West Allis, Wis. He sported a black mustache and wore a black homburg, a combination that made him look like a Chicago gangster.
"I took a lot of kidding from kids about him, " Ross says. "They told me I shouldn't trust him."
One day when he was alone, Ross tiptoed into the master bedroom, climbed atop a chair, and peered into his father's bureau drawer.
He found a pistol.
It was small with a blueblack finish and a buffalo head on the handle the first handgun Ross had seen up close and a chill went through him.
"As far as I was concerned, there were only two kinds of people who had guns like that the police and a crook, " Ross says now. "And I knew my father wasn't a cop."
But as Ross tells the story, he smiles frequently. He punctuates his lines with pauses and chuckles. His retelling often follows word-for-word the article he wrote for a gun collectors' journal.
"Back in the days when sex was dirty and the air was clean, " he begins, "I came to the conclusion that my father was a criminal."
The article describes the Spanishmade gun as a "Bufalo Pistola Caliber 6.35" with three safeties and grayblack grips. It sold for $20 after the turn of the century.
"Though not particularly useful because of its small, impotent cartridge, " Ross wrote, "it remains an interesting token from another time."
But a token of what? Because the gun was owned by his father, and his father before him, the story is neither funny nor trivial to Ross. He ends with this:
"Some people would call the pistol a Saturday Night Special and prohibit me from owning it. So long as they are unsuccessful in legislating away my firearms, it is my intention to give it to my son one day . . ."
Underlying the gift would be one man's identity: The gift of the right to keep and bear arms.