Despite handily winning re-election less than a month ago, U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO-R) announced on Monday that she is retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives to take a job as president of an electric cooperative trade association.
Emerson serves Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, a sprawling rural district that covers the southeastern portion of the state and the Ozarks. She will step down on February 8 and take over as president and CEO of of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
Emerson says the new job opportunity came about very quickly. She says the NRECA approached her about the presidency, and the organization’s board voted on her early Monday.
She calls the job an extension of the work she is doing now.
“I feel so strongly about rural America for creating a level playing field for those of us who live in rural America,” Emerson told reporters on a conference call Monday. “By being able to work on behalf of all rural Americans, this is a pretty exciting opportunity.”
Emerson won her ninth election in November. Her late husband, Bill Emerson, represented the southern Missouri district from 1981 until he died in 1996. Jo Ann won a special election that year, and has cruised to re-election ever since.
Emerson put to rest any speculation that she might seek political office in the future.
“I will not be running for any office again, unless it’s when I retire in twenty years from now and I run for mayor of the little town where I retire.”
Emerson says she will not step down before the beginning of the next Congressional session because she wants to continue work on issues like the fiscal cliff, completion of the Birds Point levee and Mississippi River navigation challenges.
“All of these require a huge amount of attention, which is why I feel so strongly that there needs to be as short a time period as possible between me leaving and the special election as called,” Emerson said. “And it’s why I’m going to work until the very last minute before I have to start over at the NRECA.”
Governor Jay Nixon will call for a special election to fill Emerson’s seat. Republican and Democratic 8th Congressional District Committees will select candidates to run for the race. The conservative district leans heavily Republican.
The GOP list of potential candidates is growing longer than a first grader’s wish list to Santa Claus.
Missouri Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder have both expressed interest. Former treasurer Sarah Steelman’s name has been mentioned in several media reports.
Senator Kevin Engler says he is surveying the lay of the land, while fellow Senator Jason Crowell is still thinking about it. Representatives Wayne Wallingford, Todd Richardson and Jason Smith have floated their names, as well as Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy.
The Republican Party’s 8th District Committee will hand-pick that party’s candidate. Emerson says she will have no input in the decision.
“I think that it’s their responsibility to allow the 8th District Congressional Committee to evaluate all interested candidates for the position. That’s their decision. That’s how democracy works. And I need to stay out of it,” she said.
Southeast Missouri State University political scientist Jeremy Walling says the Republican Party has an important choice on their hands. The party can choose a candidate without tea party interference. But, he says, it all depends on the direction the party wants to take between a young, less proven politician, or a savvy veteran like Lloyd Smith.
“He’s done great things for the Republican Party,” Walling said about Smith. “But does the party want to go with someone like him, who’s probably a sure thing if they field him as a candidate, or do they want to go with somebody who’s younger and more dynamic and who maybe will stick around for a long time. And that remains to be seen.”
Rick Althaus teaches political science at Southeast. He says the Democrats have fewer options in their bullpen.
“There aren’t a lot of current Democratic officeholders here, so there’s kind of a small population to select from. We’ve got recent Congressional opponents of Jo Ann, Tommy Sowers for example, or others. So those might be somebody who might be considered,” Althaus said.
Althaus floated one dark horse candidate - Congressman Russ Carnahan, who will be redistricted out of the House. A Carnahan spokesperson said he had not yet spoken to the St. Louis area Congressman about the race.
U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO-R) will retire from the House in February 2013 to become the president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Emerson was handily reelected in November to serve a ninth term as representative from Missouri's 8th Congressional District. Her husband, Bill Emerson, served in the House from 1981 until his death in 1996. Jo Ann Emerson stepped in to take her late husband's seat and has been in the House ever since.
Here's the official release:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson announced today that her service in the House of Representatives will end in February 2013.
"The people of Southern Missouri have entrusted their voice in Congress to me for 16 years. Serving them is a humbling experience, a great honor and a welcome challenge. Our congressional district is big, it is diverse, and it demands practical representation by someone who places us and our home ahead of politics and partisanship. The people of our district demand results, they want us to work together, and they have every right to a representative who works as hard as they do. Every day in Congress, that is my goal.
"I am going to miss the constituents I work with every day, the thousands of small business owners, compassionate families, community leaders, students and servicemembers who define the character of Southern Missouri. My respect for them is boundless, and I will never forget the wonderful friendships I have gained through my service in Congress. The vitality of rural America depends on the hard work and optimism of the people who make their communities special. We are fortunate to have no shortage of that rare quality of American in Southern Missouri. And I plan to stay in Congress as long as I can to ensure the gap in their representation is as brief as possible.
"I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service -- to the contrary -- I see a new way to serve. I did not go seeking this opportunity, but I am excited about the new challenge it offers to find ways to promote strong rural policy.
"And I would be remiss if I did not also mention the dozens of staff members who have made helping our constituents their vocation. I have always had the very best staff in Congress, and people in Southern Missouri are truly fortunate that some of the best staff members and casework professionals in the country are working hard for them. Over the years, first Bill and then I have taken great pride in creating a strong legacy for Southern Missouri, for making sure Southern Missouri matters in Congress. Our district has earned its reputation for commonsense above all else, and I will leave Congress in February with a heavy heart despite my confidence that Southern Missouri and its standard for leadership will endure.
In February, Emerson will assume the role of President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, where she will continue her advocacy for rural communities in Missouri and throughout the country.