Nearly a month after winning re-election, Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson announced that she will resign in February to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
“I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service — to the contrary — I see a new way to serve,” she said in a statement released Monday. “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.”
Emerson has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. She was first elected in 1996 to replace her husband, Bill Emerson, who died in office that year.
She represents Missouri’s Eighth District, which covers the southeastern portion of Missouri, including Phelps County. Emerson currently sits on the House Appropriations Committee, chairing the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.
Emerson recently won re-election in the Nov. 6 general election, raking in almost 72 percent of the votes cast in her district.
“When I leave Congress in February, it will be with a heavy heart,” she said during a conference call with several media outlets Monday.
She said her decision had nothing to do with the political polarization in the House.
As president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Emerson said she will be in charge of running the nonprofit organization, a group of about 800 people.
The consumers of electrical cooperatives are “my constituents and I'm here to fight for them,” she said, adding, “These co-ops provide energy to my constituents in rural areas and rural co-ops are what built the rural part of our country.”
The association’s board voted Monday to approve Emerson for the job. She said the association approached her for the job; she did not approach them.
“I don’t have control over the timing. It all just happened very quickly,” she said, noting that she was not contacted until after the election.
“I feel it’s an extension of the job that I'm doing now,” she said of her new job. “Being able to work on behalf of all rural Americans is a pretty exciting opportunity.”
When asked about her salary in the new job, Emerson said, “It’s more generous than what I'm making now.” Current members of Congress are paid $174,000 annually.
Some of the highlights from her time in the House she mentioned during the call were “the promotion of civility in Congress and finding common sense solutions,” the Bill Emerson memorial bridge at Cape Girardeau in honor of her late husband and work on the Birds Point levee on the Mississippi River.
Page 2 of 2 - She also complimented her staff for their help, especially during disasters in her district, and said she will miss her constituents, including small business owners, families, community leaders, students and service members.
“My respect for them (constituents) is boundless,” she said during the call. “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 common sense.
“I want my constituents to know they inspire me and I have loved serving them for the last 16 years,” she said. “It has been sometimes very challenging because of the issues which we’re dealing with but the spirit of the folks I represented have kept my spirits up.”
Emerson told the media on the conference call that she will not seek public office again.
Among the issues she will likely have to tackle before she leaves office in February is completion of work on the Birds Point levee, water level and navigation issues on the Mississippi River and the “fiscal cliff.”
“It’s been an enormous privilege and a great honor to serve the people,” Emerson said.
Her last day in Congress will be Feb. 8, 2013, and she will start her new job Feb. 11. She said she hopes there will be a short period between the time she leaves and when a special election is called.
Gov. Jay Nixon will need to set a date for the election and party committees in the district will choose the nominees. No special primaries will be held.
Emerson told the media during the conference call that she will have no input on her successor.
“We have any number of excellent potential candidates for my seat in the district,” she said.
According to the Associated Press, Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith, who is is Emerson’s former chief of staff, former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and state lawmaker Kevin Engler have all confirmed interest in seeking the seat.
The AP also reports that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder says he is giving the opportunity “careful thought and consideration” and will speak to nominating committee members before a decision. State Sen. Jason Crowell says he is uncertain about his future plans.
“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,” Emerson said.