They say there is nothing like the satisfaction of a job well done, and electrical construction is often grueling work. It can occupy every waking moment and sap every ounce of strength. But at the end of the day, some contractors find reserves still in the tank, and they choose to go further and give back to their communities. Some contractors even find it in themselves to go into public service.
Donald Norcross, New Jersey
Since 2014, Donald Norcross has been representing New Jersey’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a member of the New Jersey Senate from 2010–2014. However, before his career in politics, he was something else entirely: an electrician.
Norcross, a member of Folsom, N.J., IBEW Local 351, worked for electrical contractors Hatzel & Buehler Inc., Carr & Duff Inc., Parsons Electric LLC, and Cleveland Electric Co.
“I was always interested in how things worked and working with my hands,” Norcross said. “As a child, for example, when I got a new bicycle, I would take it apart to see what made it work.”
While his three brothers headed off to traditional universities, Norcross earned an associate’s degree at a community college. He then focused his attention on work as an electrician.
“I grew up in a family that was committed to service,” he said. “From an early age, my parents taught us the importance of giving back and being active participants in our communities. That has been the foundation for my personal and public service.”
During his years in political service, Norcross has found that his background as an electrician provides him with some important perspectives.
“It is obvious that Washington just doesn’t get it,” he said. “There is so much dysfunction. Many of them just can’t relate to the working class.”
To emphasize this point, Norcross noted that, while there are more than 200 lawyers in Congress, he is the only electrician.
“As that electrician, I know what it’s like to struggle, to be unemployed and to be on disability,” he said. “I have endured what so many hardworking Americans experience every single day.”
Norcross, who spoke at the National Electrical Contractors Association’s legislative conference in 2015, recently teamed up with West Virginia Rep. David McKinley, an engineer and construction project manager, to form the bipartisan Building Trades Caucus, which advocates for worker rights.
“Together, we are working to educate other members of Congress on the needs of the American worker,” he said.
"As that electrician, I know what it's like to struggle, to be unemployed and to be on disability. I have endured what so many hardworking Americans experience every single day." —Donald Norcross, U.S. House of Representatives
As a state legislator, Norcross helped craft the New Jersey Opportunity Act of 2013, which has generated billions of dollars in private investment and new construction throughout the state.
“This initiative, along with innovative public safety and education reforms, have helped create new, family-sustaining jobs and also transform [Camden City, N.J.] into a model for urban revitalization and cooperation between government, employers, community groups and residents,” he said.
In the past, one of Norcross’ favorite sayings was, “The best social program is a job.” He has recently revised that to, “The best social program is a career.”
Steve D. Ross, Las Vegas
Across the country in Las Vegas, Mayor Pro Tempore Steve D. Ross represents Ward 6, which has doubled its population in the last six years. He also is a certified master electrician.
Ross serves as a member of the Regional Transportation Commission, the Regional Flood Control Board, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Clark County Shooting Park Advisory Committee, the city’s Audit Oversight Committee, the Clean Water Coalition, and the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities, where Ross has been on the executive committee for eight years and was president for two years in a row. In 2012, he was honored as the Public Official of the Year.
“I think I won the award because I’m the kind of person that, if you give me an assignment, I’m going to jump in feet first and get it done,” he said.
Ross also has had a long-time commitment to community volunteer work, including the Las Vegas Area Boy Scout Council, Little League and other youth and church activities.
Ross was born in Reno, Nev., and moved to Las Vegas as a child with his family. He studied at the University of Nevada, Reno, and at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“My parents lived next door to a man who owned an electrical contracting company,” he said. “When I was in college, I got a part-time job there, cleaning the warehouse, filling parts and performing other types of jobs.”
After working his way up in that company, he began working for Keleeco Electrical Services Inc., where he stayed until the company went out of business during the economic downturn a few years ago.
However, Ross’ interest in politics began even before he left electrical contracting.
“I got involved in politics early,” he said. “I was vice chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party when I was 29. In fact, my wife and I actually put on the Democratic convention in the county. However, that took a lot of out us, because we had five small children at the time, so I backed away from politics for awhile.”
However, Ross realized he missed it, so got involved again.
"I especially wanted to show my kids that you can't just take; you have to give back." —Mike Ham
“In 2003, I was going to run for the county commission, but I realized I didn’t have time to do that, since I was so busy with my job in electrical contracting,” he said.
Things changed in 2005, when Ross ran against a dozen other contenders for an open city council seat in Las Vegas. Ross won the election and was re-elected in 2009 and 2013.
In his current role, three of Ross’ priorities are public safety, smart growth and providing recreational opportunities. For example, he believes it is important that public services and structures—such as fire stations, police, roads and flood control channels—keep pace with city growth.
However, business growth is also a priority. Having worked for a number of small businesses over the years, he understands how important it is to represent the needs of small business owners in his role as an elected official.
“I promote businesses because I want to promote jobs,” Ross said. “If you’re not promoting businesses, you can’t create jobs. Governments don’t create jobs. The private sector does.”
Ross has championed streamlining the way Las Vegas helps businesses.
“And we have been very effective at it,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that, if you get off a plane in China at nine in the morning, you can have your business license at noon and your doors open at two in the afternoon. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for small businesses to open their doors in Las Vegas so that they can hire people and put them to work.”
Mike Ham, Colorado Springs
Mike Ham of Colorado Springs, Colo., always felt a calling to public service. But first, in 1997, he became an electrician.
“The main reason was that I had family in the trade, and I was in a dead-end job at the time doing apartment maintenance,” he said.
Ham has worked for several contractors over the years, including Berwick Electric Co., Green Electric Inc., Lenz Electric, all located in Colorado Springs, as well as working for a few other contractors around the country at various times.
Regardless of how busy he was in his career, he has always been committed to giving back to the community.
“I especially wanted to show my kids that you can’t just take; you have to give back,” he said.
At one time, Ham considered running for political office, such as Colorado Springs city council.
“However, council members are not paid but are just given a stipend for gas money,” he said. “Since I’m not independently wealthy or retired, I realized I couldn’t afford it, since I have a family to support.”
He also thought about running at the state level a few years back but realized that the paycheck wouldn’t be able to support him and his family.
However, Ham has found other ways to serve his community that don’t require as many hours of commitment. At one time, for example, he was a volunteer member of the Colorado Springs City Planning Commission, a board that deals with land-use issues.
He currently sits on the governor’s Correctional Industries Advisory Committee, which advises the directors of the program on the manufacture, distribution and private sector impact of products produced by correctional industries.
“This is designed to give people who are locked up a way out—and allowing them to make restitution by paying back,” he said. “In this way, when they finally do transition out, they will have a skill that can land them a job and begin earning money.”
Most recently, Ham was appointed to a Colorado Springs volunteer advisory committee that was set up to help the city clerk gather citizens’ input for reshaping districts in the city.
In all of his public service work, Ham has found that his experience as an electrician has helped him.
“A lot of times, in electrical work, things don’t go as planned in the field, so you have to learn how to adapt and improvise,” he said. “I have found this experience to be very helpful when I sit on these advisory boards, especially when it comes to being open to other people’s ideas and being able to negotiate.”